On 22 May, Ahmed Mohsen, an unemployed taxi driver, left his house in the Islamic State-controlled western part of Mosul to try to escape across the Tigris to the government-held eastern side of the city. He and his mother, along with ten other people, carried rubber tyres down to the river: most of them couldn’t swim, and they planned to tie them together to make a raft. The siege of Mosul was in its seventh month and Ahmed was both desperate and starving: he and his mother were living on handfuls of wheat they cooked, though he said it made him feel sick. His friends believe that lack of food made him light-headed and led him to risk crossing the river. ‘Even if I die in the river,’ he told them, ‘it will be better than living here.’
Tag Archives: Iraq
The catastrophic number of civilian casualties in Mosul is receiving little attention internationally from politicians and journalists. This is in sharp contrast to the outrage expressed worldwide over the bombardment of east Aleppo by Syrian government and Russian forces at the end of 2016.
Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish leader and former Iraqi finance and foreign minister, told me in an interview last week: “Kurdish intelligence believes that over 40,000 civilians have been killed as a result of massive firepower used against them, especially by the Federal Police, air strikes and Isis itself.”
The real number of dead who are buried under the mounds of rubble in west Mosul is unknown, but their numbers are likely to be in the tens of thousands, rather than the much lower estimates previously given.
The massacre of Mosul: 40,000 feared dead in battle to take back city from Isis as scale of civilian casualties revealed
More than 40,000 civilians were killed in the devastating battle to retake Mosul from Isis, according to intelligence reports revealed exclusively to The Independent – a death toll far higher than previous estimates.
Residents of the besieged city were killed by Iraqi ground forces attempting to force out militants, as well as by air strikes and Isis fighters, according to Kurdish intelligence services.
Hoshyar Zebari, until recently a senior minister in Baghdad, told The Independent that many bodies “are still buried under the rubble”. “The level of human suffering is immense,” he said.
“Kurdish intelligence believes that over 40,000 civilians have been killed as a result of massive firepower used against them, especially by the federal police, air strikes and Isis itself,” Mr Zebari added.
Iraqi security forces kill Isis prisoners because they believe that if the militants are sent to prison camps they will bribe the authorities in Baghdad to release them. “That is why Iraqi soldiers prefer to shoot them or throw them off high buildings,” says one Iraqi source. A former senior Iraqi official said he could name the exact sum that it would take for an Isis member to buy papers enabling him to move freely around Iraq.
The belief by Iraqi soldiers and militiamen that their own government is too corrupt to keep captured Isis fighters in detention is one reason why the bodies of Isis suspects, shot in the head or body and with their hands tied behind their backs, are found floating in the Tigris river downstream from Mosul. Revenge and hatred provoked by Isis atrocities are motives for extrajudicial killings by death squads, but so is distrust of an Iraqi judicial system, which is notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional.
Northern Iraq is one of the most fought over places on earth. Ancient and modern fortifications are everywhere. Just outside Erbil is the site of the battle of Gaugamela where Alexander the Great defeated the Persian army in 331 BC. Saddam Hussein’s soldiers fought the Kurds here for decades. But the nine-month long struggle for Mosul between Iraqi government forces and Isis, which just ended, is probably the most important and decisive battle ever fought in this region.
It is ending with a victory of historic proportions for the Iraqi government which will go far to shape the political future of not just Iraq, but the region as a whole. Isis, which for three years had an army, administration and territory making it more powerful than many members of the UN, has been defeated. It will revert to guerrilla warfare, but it will no longer be in control of a state machine through which it exercised its monstrous rule.
“The people of Mosul will receive their salaries, while the people of Basra will receive the bodies of their martyrs,” runs a bitter comment on Iraqi social media. Many Iraqis see the inhabitants of Mosul as willing collaborators with Isis during its three years in power in the city. In particular, there are calls for the punishment of “Daesh [Isis] families” whose male members had become Isis fighters or officials.
The desire for revenge runs deep among the victims of Isis in the wake of the fall of Mosul, which is scarcely surprising given the cruelty and violence of Isis rule. “I can always tell members of Daesh families when they ask for medical treatment,” said a volunteer medical worker in west Mosul. “They have plump faces and look well-fed, while everybody else in Mosul is thin and malnourished.”
Days after Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, declared victory over Islamic State forces in Mosul, emaciated figures were still emerging from tunnels and basements in the shattered city on Wednesday: old men carried on the backs of their sons and women wearing dusty, tattered abayas, dragging behind them their parched and thirsty children.
In the shadow of what had once been the city’s 12th century al-Nuri mosque, blown up by Isis fighters last month in the final, desperate days of battle, a special forces officer pointed at the families who were limping out of the ruins without a male relative.
Amid the proverbial doom and gloom pervading all things Syria, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune sometimes yield, well, good fortune.
Take what happened this past Sunday in Beijing. The China-Arab Exchange Association and the Syrian Embassy organized a Syria Day Expo crammed with hundreds of Chinese specialists in infrastructure investment. It was a sort of mini-gathering of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), billed as “The First Project Matchmaking Fair for Syria Reconstruction”.
It is widely accepted that Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul, declared this weekend, ends a battle but not a war, and that the group’s thousands of jihadi supporters could turn in revenge to targeted suicide bombings in the west as well as in cities in Iraq and Syria. What has been less often predicted is the risk of mass violence from a different quarter. Iraqis themselves may slip back into fraternal conflict now that their temporary need to unite against Isis is almost over.Three years of war against the Islamist extremists created a national sense of urgency which overcame regional, ethnic and sectarian disputes. But with Isis now on the back foot, and deprived of most of the territory it once held throughout western Iraq, old tensions could resume.One of these deep-seated Iraqi problems has clearly worsened since Isis emerged to capture Mosul in 2014. In the early months of the struggle to prevent the group from moving on to seize Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish regional government, Kurdish resistance forces occupied vast areas of the Nineveh plain east of Mosul which had long been disputed between Arabs and Kurds. The same happened in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
Mosul families complain overuse of airstrikes killed thousands as they count their dead in wake of Isis defeat
“There were very few Daesh [Isis fighters] in our neighbourhood, but they dropped a lot of bombs on them,” says Qais, 47, a resident of the al-Jadida district of Mosul. “We reckon that the airstrikes here killed between 600 and 1,000 people.”He shows pictures on his phone of a house that had stood beside his own before it was hit by a bomb or missile that had reduced it to a heap of smashed-up bricks. “There were no Daesh in the house,” says Qais. But there were seven members of the Abu Imad family living there, of whom five were killed along with two passers-by.