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Patrick Cockburn: City of the Dead

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    City of the Dead Mosul on Lockdown By PATRICK COCKBURN Mosul. Mosul looks like a city of the dead. American and Iraqi troops have launched an attack aimed at
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 7, 2008
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      City of the Dead
      Mosul on Lockdown


      Mosul looks like a city of the dead. American and Iraqi troops have
      launched an attack aimed at crushing the last bastion of al Qaida in
      Iraq and in doing so have turned the country's northern capital into
      a ghost town. Soldiers shoot at any civilian vehicle on the streets
      in defiance of a strict curfew. Two men, a woman and child in one
      car which failed to stop were shot dead by US troops who later
      issued a statement saying the two men were armed and one man
      made 'threatening movements.' It is not easy to reach Mosul, a city
      of 1.4 million people on the Tigris river, sealed off from the
      outside world by hundreds of police and army checkpoints since the
      Iraqi government offensive against al-Qa'ida began at 4 am on
      Saturday morning.

      The operation is a critical part of the government's attempt over
      the last six weeks to reassert military control over Iraq which has
      led to heavy fighting in Baghdad and Basra.

      We began the journey from the Kurdish capital Arbil in a convoy of
      white pick up trucks, each with a heavy machine gun in the back
      manned by alert-looking soldiers, some wearing black face masks,
      that were escorting Khasro Goran, the deputy governor of Mosul, to
      his office in the city.

      Soon after crossing the long bridge over the Zaab river and leaving
      territory officially controlled by the Kurds, we saw lines of trucks
      and cars, whose drivers presumably had not heard of the curfew,
      being stopped by police. The soldiers defending our convoy said
      that there was little real danger ahead, but even so we turned into
      a military headquarters in the Christian village of Bartilla to
      exchange our pick ups for more heavily armoured vehicles with small
      windows a few inches across of bullet proof glass.

      I had been to Mosul down this road half a dozen times since the fall
      of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and on each occasion the military escort
      necessary to reach the city safely has grown bigger. Squinting
      through the small glass portholes I could see local people were
      clearly taking the curfew seriously. Even the miserable looking
      cafes used by the truck drivers, and which I had imagined were never
      closed, had put up their metal grills.

      In eastern Mosul the streets are usually bustling and stalls spill
      onto the road near the tomb of the prophet Jonah who died in Mosul
      sometime after his alarming experience with the whale. Most of the
      people living in this part of the city are in any case Kurds, who
      support the central government against al-Qa'ida, but here again
      every shop was shut and there were police and soldiers at
      checkpoints every fifty yards.

      An extra brigade had been sent from Baghdad for the present
      offensive along with special security troops to reinforce the 2nd
      and 3rd divisions. Outside the police headquarters the black
      vehicles of the Interior Ministry, each with a heavy machine gun and
      a yellow head of a tiger as an insignia on the doors, were drawn up
      in rows.

      American helicopters flew high overhead as well as drones for
      reconnaissance. There was the occasional burst of firing and bomb
      blast in the distance. The governor of Mosul, Dunaid Kashoula, says
      the city 'has come to be dominated by the leaders of al-Qa'ida as a
      result of the delay in the military operation' originally scheduled
      for earlier this year. Nevertheless, the insurgents in Mosul have
      never held whole quarters of the city and there was no street

      The government offensive in Mosul was promised in January by the
      prime minister Nouri al-Maliki as the last battle against al-Qa'ida.
      He promised revenge for the assassination of the previous police
      commander for the city who had been assassinated by an al-Qa'ids
      suicide bomber dressed in a police uniform.

      There is no doubt that security in Mosul has been getting worse over
      the last six months. Mr Goran, who effectively runs the city, says
      that 90 people were killed in Mosul last September compared to 213
      dead this March including 58 soldiers and policemen. The number of
      roadside bombs had risen from 175 to 269 over the same period.

      The official theory for this is that al Qa'ida in Iraq, which has
      only a limited connection with Osama bin Laden and is largely home
      grown, has been driven out of its old bastions in Anbar and Diyala
      provinces and Sunni districts of Baghdad. It has therefore retreated
      to Mosul, the largest Sunni Arab city and the third largest in Iraq.

      This is probably over simple. Attacks on US troops in Anbar province
      have started again and in Sunni districts of west Baghdad al-Qa'ida
      appears to be lying low rather than being eliminated. In many cases
      in Baghdad al-Sahwa, the supposedly anti-al-Qa'ida awakening
      Councils paid by the Americans, in practice have cosy arrangements
      with al-Qa'ida.

      I had decided to go to Mosul - and therefore arrived in the first
      hours of the government offensive - because of what turned out to be
      a false report that the head of al Qa'ida in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-
      Masri [check spelling], had been captured in a pre-dawn raid in the
      city. Later Iraqi security officers said they captured many 'Emirs',
      al Qa'ida cell leaders, and targeted hundreds of suspected houses.

      These are critical days for the Iraqi government of Mr Maliki. Since
      25 March he has launched military offensives in Basra and Baghdad.
      He is getting support from the Americans and the Kurds. But it it is
      not clear if the Iraqi army will fight without the backing of US
      firepower in the air or on the ground. On Saturday a ceasefire was
      agreed with the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City giving
      the government greater control. But, as in Mosul, it is not clear
      how far the government's opponents have simply retreated to fight
      another day.

      I was in Mosul on the day it was surrendered by Saddam Hussein's
      forces in 2003.Scenes of joy were succeeded within the space of a
      few hours by looting and gun battles between Arabs and Kurds. Five
      years later Mosul, one of the great cities of the world, looks
      ruinous and under siege. Every alley way is blocked by barricades
      and the only new building is in the form of concrete blast walls.
      The fact that the government has to empty the streets of Mosul of
      its people to establish peace for a few days shows how far the city
      is from genuine peace.

      Patrick Cockburn is the Ihe author of "Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the
      Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq."



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