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Life under Islamic State in Iraq’s Falluja: danger, rage and profit

fter Islamic State seized Falluja in January it persuaded a man making covers for cars to sell suicide vests instead, one of many changes in the Iraqi city as it adapts to life under the ultra-hardline Sunni militants.

Islamic State is notorious for beheading or executing anyone who stands in its way when seizing cities and towns in Iraq and Syria that form its self-proclaimed caliphate, often using suicide bombers to make advances.

The militants have issued guidelines on life with their ideology, requiring all women to wear face veils, and banning the cigarettes and Western-style haircuts that were popular in Falluja before.

Many residents feel alienated by the changes. But in order to keep the “empire” and its holy war against governments and armies going, Islamic State also strikes deals with people like the tailor, according to recent visitors to Falluja who spoke to Reuters in Baghdad by telephone.

Islamic State provided a generator and free fuel, enabling him to boost profits and churn out suicide vests, belts and trousers from a building pockmarked by U.S. bullets used against al Qaeda nearly a decade ago.

“I passed through hard times. I have children to feed. I chose this new profession willingly and I take responsibility for the outcome,” the tailor said.

Like other people quoted in this story, his name has not been included for security reasons.

Falluja was the first Iraqi city to fall to Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot comprised of Arabs and foreign fighters who have threatened to march on nearby Baghdad.

During the U.S. occupation of Iraq after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, it emerged as the main bastion of the Sunni insurgency in western Anbar province and swiftly became an al Qaeda stronghold. The U.S. Marines fought over it with al Qaeda in 2004 in two of the biggest battles of the American war.

A decade later, Islamic State is deeply entrenched in Falluja, making it one of the main examples of what life could soon be like across swathes of Syria and Iraq under its ultra-hardline ideology.

The mainly tribal town in the Euphrates valley just west of Baghdad has long been a bastion of traditional religious and cultural practice. Even Saddam’s secular dictatorship was alarmed by Islamists there. But even its deeply conservative population has often been uneasy with life under Islamic State.

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