Premiered at the last Venice Film Festival in the Out of Competition section, the documentary by Francesca Mannocchi and Alessio Romenzi has a dramatically unsettling title.
ISIS, tomorrow, again. Maybe waving a new flag or assuming a new name after having changed from ISI to ISIS to finally become with the creation of the Caliphate in 2014, simply IS. However, it will still be there as always, disseminating death, bloody violence, terror. It will be there with its sexual slaves, its black warriors, the oppressive Rule of Law, prohibitionism of the mind and nihilism of the heart.
Founded in Mosul on 29 June 2014 and buried under its rubble on 7 July 7 2017, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate wouldn’t die but only be rendered unconscious by the Kurdish Peshmerga and American missiles.
The directors of ISIS Tomorrow carried out a lot of interviews in Mosul between 2016 and 2018. Interviews that left out nothing regarding the different sides involved in the conflict. What emerged is a disturbing and appalling reality. Besides the dust of the building rubble, there is a smell of revenge in Mosul, the stench of black Jihadism has continued to spread, the ISIS ideology has never died.
The baton has been handed down to the children, the children of ISIS, on whom the sins of their fathers fall. Children who are often doomed to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. As if plague-ridden, these children are outcast, isolated, marginalized by the survivors of Jihadist brutality. Children who the international community blindly continue to ignore, hiding behind the hypocrisy of the long terms of reconciliation.
Mosul, the second biggest city in Iraq, besieged by ISIS for three years (from 10 June 2014 to 9 July 2017) liberated itself. The hostility of most of the population towards the local security forces, that were often considered as enemies, was so deep-rooted that many Mosul inhabitants joined ISIS.
Many Iraqi women had encouraged their husbands and sons to join the Caliphate to be able to continue living. Setting aside its brutality, ISIS had proved efficient in providing the local population with essential services. This helped it gain more consideration from the people. The root causes of the Jihadist violence go well beyond the obvious reasons of religious fanaticism. This should have been kept in mind when designing the post-conflict reconstruction.
The nine-month offensive to liberate Mosul (from January 2016 to July 2017) had turned the city into a ghost town, a gutted city, razed to the ground. Through its outstanding photography, ISIS Tomorrow fully gets across the idea of Mosul’s apocalyptic landscape, where one of the fiercest battles since WW2 had been fought. The civilian casualties are unknown (Associated Press reported approximatively 10,000 dead), and, even more so, are unknown the number of IS orphans in Syria and Iraq. It is, however, absolutely certain that many are the result of the military devastation.
During the three-year ISIS occupation, about 500,000 minors lived in Mosul. The war had robbed them of everything – parents, friends, school, their childhood. Irredeemably so, forever. Abudi is one of them. He is ten years old. Listening to him is chilling. His story is pure desperation. Abudi, crippled, has no clothes other than the ones he is wearing. He clambers through the rubble with the skills of a stray dog. He has lost his father, uncle and cousins. All killed by the Islamic State militia.
«I witnessed so many people die, sometimes stoned, sometimes their throats cut. Children also did this. They called people infidels. My mother was beaten before my eyes, whipped because she had not been wearing the right clothing. If I had had a weapon in my hand, I would have killed them to revenge my family.» (Abudi)
Mahmoud is sixteen years old and he is the son of an ISIS fighter. He worked with his father in a motorbike repair garage before he forced him to enlist in ISIS. His father was killed and he cannot forgive him. Omar, sixteen years old, is in jail. His dream was to behead an American.
And so many others. «There are lot of ISIS children, many are in prison, most are minors», an official from the Iraqi army tells in an interview.
They are the lost souls of Mosul, when not in prison, they can be found in displacement camps reserved for militia families. Their own houses had been confiscated or burned out. On the walls of the still standing houses there was graffiti the word Daesh (the Arabic word for ISIS).
Many civilians living in the areas under Islamic State control had supported the new state of al-Baghdadi for different reasons. Many of them joined ISIS for money, mostly people from modest backgrounds who were struggling to feed their families during a state of war.
Another soldier, still very young, emotionally recounts to have killed child fighters. «One day a child blew himself up right before my eyes, his body parts were scattered everywhere, I could not stop him, I could only shoot at him, he was out of his mind, […] I hoped not to meet children any more, not to be forced to kill them.»
An ISIS propaganda video shows the terrifying training that child soldiers underwent inside the Al Nuhri Mosque. A school for brainwashing. Al Jeddah Camp Section D is reserved for ISIS families. The movie enters this “Indian reservation”, filming ISIS widows alongside their children.
A feeling of pride along with a longing for revenge emanates from all of them. They are proud of being a part of the holy war. «They don’t give us any water», one of them tells, «even if the children forget, they would not allow us to. Our day will come, today is theirs, tomorrow will be ours.»
Arwa is speaking, an ISIS widow. Her daughter lost her sight following an allied bomb attack. «I have promised to take her to Baghdad where she will be able to have her eyes back […] We have no electricity because we are from ISIS. We don’t mix with anyone, we prefer to die for Allah.»
In Mosul mothers pass on to their sons the ISIS ideology. What will happen to these children is extremely difficult to imagine. Without ID cards they cannot go to school, work nor receive any medical care. They are so deeply traumatized that it is hard to even imagine that there might be a glimmer of hope for them in their lives.
Indoctrinated into martyrdom, candidates for the paradise of Allah, these children are experiencing hell on earth, becoming easy targets for a survivor revenge. Their souls are full of hatred and Jihadist rhetoric. Of course, a generation will not be enough to eliminate their traumas, and, surely, if there is no way out for the ISIS children and their mothers, without jobs and rights, ISIS will rise again tomorrow.