Mosul has been a dangerous place since the US-led invasion of 2003. It is the greatest Sunni Arab city of Iraq during an era in which the Sunni had lost their old predominance and have struggled against Shia-dominated governments in Baghdad and Kurdish rulers next door in Iraqi Kurdistan.
It is a battle that is still going on as the Iraqi army and Shia paramilitaries advance on Mosul from the south while Kurdish Peshmrga come from the east. The way is cleared for both by air strikes, predominantly by the US air force, attacking Isis fighters dug into ruined villages and hiding in deep tunnels.
If the anti-Isis forces ultimately succeed in recapturing Mosul it will be the fifth time the city has changed hands in the course of 13 years of war. The first time was in April 2003 when the Iraqi army was breaking up and surrendering and the Kurdish Peshmerga burst into the city. There was looting on a mass scale which the Arabs blamed on the Kurds and vice versa, but in fact both took part. I saw crowds ransack the governor’s mansion, the Central Bank and the university.