Iraqis fear a bloodbath in post-ISIS Mosul
BAGHDAD - With the expected liberation of Mosul, residents are saying they worry about the day-after scenario that might be bloodier than the military operation to recapture the city from Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
Locals fear acts of vengeance against relatives and neighbours who joined ISIS. Threats of reprisal killings against people linked to the militants have started with postings popping up on social media showing pictures and addresses of ISIS “collaborators” with a message: “Death and revenge will be yours very soon.”
Other tribulations include disputes over properties of people who fled the city to escape ISIS. Some property was bought or seized by families that stayed in Mosul.
Equally significant is the potential for conflicts with the Kurds. The Kurds are eager to annex areas near Mosul and draw new administrative borders, which might lead to a bloody Arab-Kurdish conflict.
The population of Mosul, which totalled 2 million before ISIS took control, had a unique diversity of ethnic and religious groups. Some were persecuted and forced to leave the areas after ISIS militants seized the Arab, Sunni-dominated northern city in 2014.
Christians were forced to leave their houses, which were confiscated. Members of the Yazidi religious minority were either killed or enslaved. Men who served in the security forces under the Shia-dominated government were executed.
As Iraqi soldiers, Kurdish peshmerga and Shia militiamen close in on Mosul, local officials fear that such brutal acts by ISIS could bring about counter acts of revenge.
Bashar al-Kiki, a member of the Nineveh Provincial Council, said the chances for vengeance acts are “real”.
“We expect that some people will try to take the law into their hands against local militants who killed their relatives. Daesh’s practices in the city have led to social divisions and enmity among the residents,” Kiki said, using ISIS’s Arabic acronym.
The revenge drive is simmering. There have been many postings on Facebook, showing pictures, names and even addresses of locals who allegedly joined ISIS and took part in atrocities against residents.
Kiki predicted that the situation in Mosul after ISIS “will be more difficult than the situation when it ruled”.
Another sticking issue is the property non-Muslim families left when they escaped the militants. Hundreds of displaced Christian and Yazidi families are living in the Kurdish autonomous region and outside Iraq. ISIS seized their properties and sold them.
In late 2015, the Baghdad government banned real estate dealings in Mosul but the move came late and some houses now have two owners.
Um Fadi, a Christian woman who fled Mosul with her family, leaving two houses behind, said she has no place to live after the city is liberated. She said one of her houses was turned into a bomb-making factory and the other was seized by a local who told her, through a third party, that he has no intention to give it up.
“I have a long and difficult way to reclaim my two houses,” she said from her rented apartment in the Kurdish city of Erbil.
Dildar Zibari, a local official, said the situation in Mosul will be chaotic because no plans were made on how to run the city after recapturing it.
“There is no clear vision on how to create a united administration that would be able to run the city. The central government and Kurdish authorities and local government need to coordinate on the best ways to help the city after Daesh but till now this is not happening,” he said.
The Kurdish ambition to annex areas around Mosul in post-ISIS era could ignite a war with the Iraqi Army, backed by Shia militias. Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government, has demanded a greater role for Kurds in running Mosul in return for Kurdish military support in the war against ISIS.
Earlier, Barzani said peshmerga fighters were drawing with their own blood new borders for the Kurdish region.
Recently, former prime minister and Shia politician Nuri al-Maliki told the US ambassador that he was “concerned” about Mosul’s future. He cited the Kurds’ expansion ambitions and accused them of seeking to “persecute the Arab and Christian residents of Mosul”. Kurdish officials accused Maliki of trying to ignite “a future war in Mosul”.
Recently, Kurdish officials floated an idea to divide Nineveh province into three parts: One for the Sunni Arabs, one for Yazidis and a third for Christians living in the plains. Some, however, fear that the Kurds would annex the last two areas later
Abdul-Rahman Allowaizi, a member of parliament from Mosul, warned that suggestions to divide Nineveh serve “the Kurdish expansionist schemes”. He accused Kurdish forces of forcing Arab families out of the areas near Mosul.
The issue of the disputed areas between the Kurds and the central government has previously led to deadly clashes in several areas in northern Iraq, he said, adding: “This scenario could be repeated in Mosul.”
“Kurdish forces are preventing Arab families from returning to their homes in the areas liberated from ISIS,” he said. “This is a dangerous policy that might lead to new wars.”