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The Islamic State Isn't Circumcising Women and Didn't Steal $400 Million Either

Since the Islamic State captured Mosul last month, it has burned shops selling alcohol, ordered veils placed over the faces of mannequins in store windows, and implemented discriminatory policies that forced the majority of the city's Christians to flee. You'd think that was dramatic enough -- but a number of apparently false stories about the jihadist group's behavior in Iraq's second-largest city are spreading like wildfire through the Western media.

The latest culprit appears to be U.N. official Jacqueline Badcock, who told reporters on Thursday that the Islamic State had issued a fatwa ordering women to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). The procedure is quite rare in Iraq -- it is far more common in sub-Saharan Africa -- and is not typically something that jihadists demand. As Agence France-Presse reported, instituting FGM in areas under the control of the Islamic State, which was previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, could place 4 million women and girls at risk of undergoing the procedure.

Thankfully, Badcock's claim has been widely debunked by reporters and analysts. NPR's Cairo bureau chief, Leila Fadel, reported that residents of Mosul, including a doctor and a tribal leader, had not heard of the fatwa. Meanwhile, an alleged Islamic State decree announcing the implementation of FGM was revealed to be a hoax. (The U.N. office in Iraq did not respond to requests for comment on the source of Badcock's claim.)

But the furor over FGM is far from the only questionable claim that has been made about the Islamic State's reign in Mosul. Last week -- as the jihadist group's very real campaign to force Christians to pay a tax levied on non-Muslims, convert to Islam, or face death reached fever pitch -- multiple news outlets reported that the Islamic State had burned down the St. Ephrem's Cathedral.

There was just one problem: The pictures published by news outlets and shared on social media of the supposed burning of the Syriac Catholic cathedral were from church burnings in Egypt or Syria. To this day, there has been no confirmation from anyone in Mosul that a cathedral was burned.

But the most spectacular story about the Islamic State relates to what would have been one of history's most spectacular bank heists. Shortly after the group stormed Mosul, the provincial governor in the region told reporters that it had raided the city's central bank, making off with more than $400 million, in addition to a "large quantity of gold bullion." The alleged raid -- which was widely reported in papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post -- would likely have made the Islamic State the world's richest jihadist organization, as well as giving it more resources than many small states.

There's only one problem: The heist doesn't appear to have happened. The regional governor who initially described the raid changed his tune in an interview with the Financial Times last week, saying that "nobody until now has confirmed that story." Meanwhile, the chief executive of the association of Iraq's private banks said that no raid occurred, and that "nothing has been removed from the premises of any banks [in Mosul], not even a piece of paper."

Given the extreme difficulty of reporting in areas under the control of the Islamic State, it is perhaps not surprising that the news coming out of Mosul is so frequently incorrect. And the jihadist group's well-deserved reputation for implementing its brand of medieval justice does admittedly make it hard to separate fact from fiction. But the next time you read a story and think that it's too spectacular to be true -- you just may be right.

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Interactive Map: Religious Requirements on Heads of State Around the World

With Gaza in turmoil, ongoing violence in Syria, and Iraq battling an Islamist insurgency, news of Lebanon's political gridlock understandably has fallen off the front page. But on Wednesday, Lebanese lawmakers failed to select a president for the eighth time. As part of Lebanon's complicated balancing act among its many sectarian groups, the president must be a Maronite Christian -- a requirement that isn't so uncommon.

According to a recent analysis from the Pew Research Center, 30 nations require their heads of state to subscribe to a certain religion. Of those 30 countries, 17 require a Muslim leader, two a Christian, and two a Buddhist. One, Indonesia, must be led by someone who believes in Pancasila, the country's founding ideology, which includes the belief in God. Eight nations forbid clergy members from ruling the land.

This interactive map details each nation's requirement. Hover over each country to view details.

Pew put another 19 in a different category because those countries are monarchies. They too require their regents to practice a certain religion. That figure is somewhat inflated, however, as 16 are members of the Commonwealth of Nations and as such consider their head of state to be Queen Elizabeth II, nominal leader of the Anglican Church. Her many titles include "Defender of the Faith," which accords her a special role in the church. The other three -- Sweden, Denmark, and Norway -- must be led by followers of particular Christian denominations.

Pancasila -- Indonesia's guiding philosophy that its leader must believe in -- is underpinned by five principles, including beliefs on society, religion, and government.

Back in Lebanon, governmental roles are split among various religious sects. Lebanon's  top leader, the president, must be a Maronite Christian. Its head of government, the prime minister, has to be a Sunni Muslim. In addition to these positions, the speaker of the National Assembly must be a Shiite Muslim, the deputy speaker of the parliament and the deputy prime minister must be Greek Orthodox, and the chief of the general staff must be Druze. Finally, seats in parliament must be divided half and half between Christians and Muslims.*

The rest of the world either doesn't have religious requirements or outlaws any religious test for political candidates.

Correction, July 25, 2014: The seats in Lebanon's National Assembly are divided half and half between Christians and Muslims. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the seats were divided in a 6-to-5 ratio between Christians and Muslims. This was the previous ratio that was in effect until 1990. (Return to reading.)

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