After Mosul's Fall, Iraqis Adjust To New Normal Under ISIS

Not all Sunnis are on board with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, even if they oppose the Iraqi government. One ranking Sunni cleric in northern Iraq calls ISIS "scum" and hints at limits to the group's influence.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. After days of fighting, here's the situation in Iraq. The Sunni extremist group ISIS is still holding much of the north and west of the country. Iraq's government has amassed security forces and volunteer militias north of Baghdad. The spiritual leader of the Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, today, called for the formation of a new government that can unite the country. And meanwhile, the first city seized in the lightning offensive by ISIS, Mosul, is coping with new leadership.

NPR's Deborah Amos spoke with a top Sunni cleric who says the people of Mosul want neither ISIS nor the Shiite-led government.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: These days, more residents of Mosul are returning to the city than leaving. There are still families who come to the sweltering tent camps on the outskirts of Erbil, lining up for the distribution of food and water. This family arrived two days ago, but Nadia and her husband, Yousef - like most people, they only give their first names for fear of reprisals - say they are already making plans to go home.

NADIA: (Foreign language spoken).

AMOS: The rebels who came to Mosul - they didn't make any problems for us, says Nadia. They just stay at the checkpoints.

She feared the Baghdad government might bomb the city, but she says she believes reports that her neighborhood is calm, and is anxious to go back. The fall of Mosul - the rapid collapse of the Iraqi army has energized many Sunnis. The top Sunni religious leader in Iraq, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Rafea al Rifai, says he supports what he calls the Sunni revolt.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Foreign language spoken).

AMOS: We meet at his apartment in Erbil. This is a rebellion against a tyrant in Baghdad he says, referring to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Now the people of Mosul will run their city.

GRAND MUFTI SHEIKH RAFEA AL RIFAI: (Through translator) Mosul is now one of the cleanest cities in Iraq. Simply, the residents have cleared many of the trash and the burned vehicles and all these things and also, more importantly, now they live in peace.

AMOS: Sheikh Rifai says there are committees forming to govern Mosul that include tribal leaders and former military officers under Saddam Hussein. In telephone calls to the city, one resident said he was joining a committee. He is an ex-officer. Others said the food markets are open, but the electricity controlled from Baghdad is scarce.

But the grand mufti played down the role of ISIS, the group reportedly leading the revolt. He dismissed reports of a strict set of rules issued by the group as propaganda. The ISIS goal of building a caliphate is nonsense, he says. This is a revolt of the Sunni community, he insists, to build a better state.

RIFAI: (Through translator) These people, whether it is through the ISIS scum or whether it's the Shia fighters that you have on the side of al-Maliki, all these groups are essentially killers. You cannot establish a state with these killers and these scum.

AMOS: So you dismiss their call for a caliphate in Mosul?

RIFAI: (Through translator) No, no. There's nothing like this at all. The people of Mosul are the ones in charge, and they are the ones who will build the state.

AMOS: His dismissal of ISIS is striking. He called the militant ideology backwards. We're not at war with Shia Muslims, he said, only with his murderous government. His comments may indicate another struggle ahead. The alliance that seized Mosul in a surprisingly quick offensive included ISIS fighters who have their own agenda in Iraq. But for now, Mosul is calm, says Um Ghofran, a 42-year-old housewife.

UM GHOFRAN: (Foreign language spoken).

AMOS: We don't know who these people are, she says, but they are helping us. They didn't kill anyone. The picture in Mosul is still unclear. Um Ghofran says she was able to go to the market with her daughters. Maybe these people can run the city, she said. But her voice was unsure. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Erbil.

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