Disappearing dishes as Mosul residents brace for hard winter under ISIL

As winter takes hold in the ISIL-controlled city of Mosul, soaring prices for meat and basic foods are sending an extra chill through Iraqi households. 

Residents used to eating traditional Mosul kibbeh — balls of wheat stuffed with minced lamb, and bean soup with beef — say they can now only afford to eat rice and lentils for most meals. 

The dearth of produce and rampant inflation mean their Iraqi dinars are buying less and less since the city was seized in June. One widow said her monthly food bill for five people has more than doubled over the last five months. 

Residents are now bracing for further hardship. While militants have promised to stock market stalls with the spoils of war, the scarce availability of some staples has been compounded by the struggle to cope with the rising price of cooking fuel. 

“People were already unhappy but this means conditions will be considerably worse, especially with winter approaching,” said Robin Mills, author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis. “This disrupts the narrative of the [ISIL] of bringing justice and order,” he said. 

The prices and shortages reflect the economic war waged by the US to restrict ISIL’s revenue through air strikes against oil facilities the group controls and pressure on Iraq’s neighbours to clamp down on smuggling routes. 

Before ISIL took over Mosul, about two dozen eggs cost 3,000 dinars (Dh9.60). 

Now it’s 4,500 dinars, residents said. Few residents have the money to absorb the extra costs. There is a huge lack of cash after banks were taken over by the militant group and many people are no longer receiving salaries, relying instead on savings, one resident said. 

That means that traditional Iraqi breakfasts of eggs, or gaymer, have been replaced by a more basic dish blending sesame syrup and palm date paste called tahiniya. For dinner, plates of kebabs and dolma — vegetables stuffed with minced lamb and rice — are disappearing from tables. 

ISIL has announced its intention to provide meat and other goods to Mosul’s markets with what they call “ghanima,” or war spoils. 

However, US-led air strikes against the group have slowed its advance, and undermined its economic strength by targeting oil refineries. 

“Running a city like Mosul is not easy task,” Basim Jameel, an Iraqi economist from Baghdad, said. “Poor administration and current circumstances are leading to inflation, then to bankruptcy and I expect also to internal struggle between [ISIL] leaders themselves.” 

In contrast, prices are still under control in the Iraqi capital, he said. ISIL’s efforts to get around the problem in Mosul have not worked so far. Militants set up a flea market in the city’s Al Quds district to sell appliances taken from the homes of Yazidi and Christian minorities that they consider apostates. 

No one shops there, though, because the items have been stolen, said one resident. The group’s ability to defuse anger over fuel price increases depends on whether it can deflect some of the blame onto the US, said Valerie Marcel, an oil analyst specialising in Iraq at Chatham House in London.

“Syrians have been living with a fraction of what they need,” said Ms Marcel. “I don’t know if the people of Mosul of will do that as well.”  

Bloomberg News

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