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IRAQ WARS
Slow recovery for Iraq's Mosul after IS ouster
By Ali Choukeir
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) Sept 9, 2017


Mosul: Iraq's second city and cultural jewel
Baghdad (AFP) Sept 9, 2017 - Mosul, wrested from the Islamic State jihadist group on July 10, is Iraq's second city and one of its cultural jewels.

The jihadists seized it in a lightning June 2014 offensive that humiliated Iraq's security forces, who launched their massive operation to retake it in October last year.

Here are some facts about Mosul:

- Trading hub -

The Mosul area is rich in oil and the city straddles the Tigris River about 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Baghdad and 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Iraq's biggest dam.

It has long been a trading hub between Iraq, Syria and Turkey, and its population before used to be a mosaic of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians and other minorities.

Muslin, the fine cotton fabric that is one of the city's best-known products, derives its name from "Mosul".

The city controls key supply routes in northern Iraq, notably a highway to the border with Syria and its second city of Aleppo.

- IS lab -

Mosul's population, which has fallen from a peak of around two million, now comprises mostly Sunni Arabs, and after Saddam Hussein was defeated in 2003, the jihadist group Al-Qaeda took root there.

On June 10, 2014, fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized the city. On June 29, the group proclaimed an Islamic "caliphate" that included Mosul, the Syrian city of Raqa and large areas of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

The group labelled its project the Islamic State, and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first public appearance on July 5 at Mosul's famed Great Mosque of al-Nuri.

IS militants turned the city into an urban model for their state, setting school programmes, shop opening hours and dress codes. The sale of alcohol and cigarettes was forbidden.

The city's historic centre was dotted with church spires, and it was home to an estimated 35,000 Christians when IS arrived. Christians were ordered to convert, pay a special tax, or leave. Almost all fled.

- Cultural demolition -

Starting in July 2014, IS began to destroy Shiite mosques and sanctuaries, some of which had been richly adorned and stood for centuries.

Militants burned thousands of rare books and manuscripts in the city's vast museum and smashed priceless statues.

IS rigged the Nabi Yunus shrine -- revered by both Muslims and Christians as the tomb of Prophet Jonah -- with explosives and blew it up. It also destroyed the Prophet Seth shrine.

The Old City of Mosul, on the western side of the river, is also considered of major cultural value.

On June 21, as Iraqi forces advanced in the Old City, the jihadists blew up the Nuri mosque and Mosul's iconic leaning minaret, known as the "Hadba" (Hunchback), which had been a symbol of the city for centuries.

- Troubled history -

Mosul was conquered by Arabs in 641 and reached its cultural peak in the 12th century before falling to Mongols in 1262, and then to Persians and Ottomans.

The city became part of Iraq when the country was created out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s.

Britain annexed the oil-rich region in 1918, to the dismay of France which sought to attach the area to its mandate in Syria.

Nineveh has always been a border region, keenly contested by its rival communities and their powerful supporters in neighbouring states.

In the early years of this century, Mosul proved a bastion of Saddam's most dedicated supporters who became a foundation of IS.

Extortion and protection rackets in the city were a major source of jihadist funding in the years leading up to 2014.

Two months since Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul from Islamic State group fighters, Mohammed Seddiq's bullet-riddled car is still off the road and his fruit and vegetable shop has yet to reopen.

Much of Iraq's second city lies in ruins and many businesses are still at a standstill, even those that produced the famous muslin cotton fabric for which Mosul was renowned before the jihadists seized it in 2014.

Three years ago, Seddiq, 32, owned two cars, but the jihadists set fire to one and the other was damaged by mortar shells and bullets.

With all the garages still closed in his west Mosul neighbourhood, he sought out a mechanic in the industrial zone in the city's east which was less severely damaged by fighting.

He expects the repairs to cost $1,000. In the meantime he will have to pay for taxis using his savings because "the state has announced that it will reimburse for cars and houses, but up to now nothing" has been paid.

Many of the cars awaiting repairs at Ghezwan Aqil's workshop were damaged when bulldozer-driving jihadists used them to form barricades against advancing Iraqi troops.

Their owners cannot afford to buy new cars and are prepared to wait one or two months for the repairs instead.

Aqil says that sometimes he will reduce a customer's bill by half depending on their circumstances.

Even after Mosul's recapture life is uncertain and insecurity is rife.

"There have been many burglaries," says taxi driver Mohammed Salem.

"And people have been detained by unidentified groups. No one knows what happened to them," the 33-year-old adds.

"There are regular problems between the various armed forces, especially the paramilitary units," Hossam Eddine al-Abbar, a member of the provincial council of Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital, tells AFP.

The presence of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) paramilitary units, dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, has stirred tensions in the Sunni-majority city.

- 'Infiltrated by terrorists' -

Without genuine reconciliation between communities, there are fears that the country could once again descend into violence.

"The best way to control (armed groups) is to integrate them into the regular forces that enjoy much more trust among citizens than paramilitary forces," Abbar said.

Omar al-Allaf, a local tribal dignitary who oversees Hashed al-Shaabi units, rejects the idea.

His men will never join the police because "they are infiltrated by terrorists", he says.

In 2014, as IS staged a rapid advance across northern Iraq, police and military personnel abandoned their posts to the jihadists with barely a fight.

That allowed the group to establish its "caliphate" across parts of Syria and a third of Iraq's territory including Mosul.

Today, many police in the Iraqi city are demanding their reinstatement, but the process of identification and investigation of each one takes time, Abbar said.

"More than 13,000 policemen have yet to return to their jobs despite our requests to the authorities in Baghdad," he added.

Mosul's famed Old City was reduced to rubble by the fighting and the iconic leaning minaret of its Al-Nuri mosque, the image of which adorns the 10,000 dinar note, left in ruins.

For many of Mosul's displaced, it is impossible to envisage a return to a city where, in addition to finding nothing left of their previous life, they risk losing more.

In the past year, a million Iraqis have fled their homes in Nineveh province.

They joined millions more displaced across the country by fighting in the cities where the jihadists had seized territory.

Across the country, all are waiting for reconstruction to begin.

Iraq: the battle for Mosul
Baghdad (AFP) Sept 9, 2017 - Key dates in the offensive against the Islamic State group in Iraq's northern city of Mosul where Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory on July 10.

- The battle begins -

- October 17, 2016: Iraqi forces launch an assault to recapture the country's second city, conquered by IS in June 2014. A month later the jihadist group's supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes his only public appearance in Mosul, urging Muslims worldwide to move to his "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria.

Tens of thousands of army, police and counter-terrorism troops and paramilitary fighters are thrown into the long-awaited offensive with crucial support from a US-led coalition.

Within two weeks, dozens of surrounding localities are recaptured, including the Christian town of Qaraqosh around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Mosul.

- Entering Mosul -

- November 1: The army says it has entered Mosul city for the first time since 2014.

- November 3: Baghdadi breaks a year-long silence, urging followers to fight to the death for Mosul.

- November 8: Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters say they have reached Bashiqa, a dozen kilometres north of Mosul.

- November 13: Iraq says it has recaptured the ancient city of Nimrud southeast of Mosul.

- November 23: Shiite-dominated paramilitary units known as the Hashed al-Shaabi say they have cut IS supply lines between Mosul and the jihadists' Syrian stronghold Raqa, 400 kilometres to the west.

The Iraqi forces face strong resistance from the jihadists who carry out numerous suicide attacks.

- East Mosul retaken -

- December 29: Government troops end a two-week pause and launch the second phase of their assault on east Mosul.

- January 8: Iraqi units reach the Tigris River that divides Mosul and take up positions near one of the city's five bridges, all now destroyed.

- January 24: The Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight says the east has been "fully liberated".

- Battle for west begins -

- February 19: Abadi announces the start of the battle for west Mosul.

- February 24: Iraqi forces seize full control of Mosul airport and enter western Mosul for the first time.

- March 12: A US envoy says Iraqi troops have cut all roads into western Mosul, trapping remaining IS fighters inside.

- March 14: Iraqi forces say they have captured the city's train station after reaching other symbolic sites such as the city's museum.

- Old City -

May 4: Iraqi forces launch a second front in northwestern Mosul to further seal in the besieged Old City. Aid groups say jihadists are holding tens of thousands of civilians as human shields.

May 16: The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled Mosul over the past seven months.

June 18: Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air strikes, launch an assault to retake the Old City, where remaining IS fighters are entrenched.

June 21: IS fighters blow up Mosul's iconic leaning minaret and the adjacent mosque where Baghdadi made his only public appearance.

A week later, troops retake the site of the mosque, which Abadi hails as a sign of IS's impending defeat. Iraqi forces battle the last few hundred jihadists in Mosul's historic centre.

- Mosul falls -

- July 10: Abadi declares victory in the "liberated" city during a visit to Mosul, his office says.

This marks an epic milestone for Iraq's security forces, who had crumbled in the face of an IS onslaught across the country in 2014.

The fight had grown even tougher in the final days of the battle as Iraqi forces fought to retake the last two IS-held areas near the Tigris River.

IRAQ WARS
Iraq faces vast challenges despite victories over IS: experts
Baghdad (AFP) Sept 1, 2017
Iraq's victory over the Islamic State group in Tal Afar was the latest in a string of gains against the jihadist group, but Iraqi forces still face massive challenges, experts say. In 2014, as IS staged a rapid advance across northern Iraq, police and military personnel abandoned their posts to the jihadists with barely a fight. That allowed the group to establish its "caliphate" across ... read more

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