ISIS may be gone but the smell of death lingers over Mosul

If federal authorities cannot bring themselves to help people rebuild their lives, they will have handed ISIS a victory.
Sunday 12/08/2018
The base of the destroyed “Al-Hadba” leaning minaret and the dome of the destroyed Al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul, on July 9. (AFP)
Waking nightmare. The base of the destroyed “Al-Hadba” leaning minaret and the dome of the destroyed Al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul, on July 9. (AFP)

About a year ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stood proudly amid the rubble of central Mosul. With the shattered ruins of the once great city smouldering as a backdrop for his camera moment, Abadi stood in solemn black military fatigues. Flanked by his most senior security and military officials, he declared that Mosul had been liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS).

If there ever were a scene that depicted victory, it was not the one Abadi was having broadcast the world over to demonstrate his “strong” leadership. The defeat of ISIS came at such a terrible price, it could hardly be celebrated by anyone with a humanitarian spirit.

Despite repeated assurances that he would not allow them to participate in the operation that began in late 2016, Abadi was powerless to prevent Iran-linked sectarian Shia jihadist militants from slaughtering their way into the city. The militias worked side-by-side with regular Iraqi forces and called down air strikes from the world’s pre-eminent superpower, the United States, and its Western allies.

Imagine that — a sectarian force, fighting against a tyrannical terrorist organisation, with the battleground being an ancient Sunni Arab city. One would have to be daft to think that any of the combatants would care much for the city or, more importantly, its inhabitants.

Government forces became embroiled in atrocities that should have sent the international community reeling in disgust had the enemy not been ISIS. Footage emerged of children being beaten and killed by sledgehammer-wielding Iraqi soldiers and, as the carnage reached the city, accounts of human rights violations emerged.

The German magazine Der Spiegel published a harrowing account complete with photographs taken by Ali Arkady, a Kurdish photojournalist who was embedded with Iraqi forces. Arkady documented how detainees, accused without proof of being ISIS militants, were tortured and executed by Iraqi forces. The soldiers encouraged the journalist to participate in the torture, knowing he was there to document the fighting.

Is it any surprise then that the rubble that covers Mosul like a shroud to this day still has bloating corpses underneath? The dead bodies that litter Mosul are spreading toxins through the air, especially as they are exposed to scorching Iraqi summer heat.

Volunteers have tried to unearth the corpses in a city where Kurdish intelligence officials, cited by Patrick Cockburn, say 40,000 people died in the worst urban fighting since the second world war.

The smell of death lingers, thick in the air, as people try to move on with their lives and forget the horrors of the very recent past but are reminded they are in a waking nightmare every time the wind wafts death over them.

If federal authorities cannot bring themselves to put aside sectarian prejudices and help the people of Mosul, Ramadi, Tikrit and scores of other destroyed cities rebuild their lives, they will have handed ISIS a victory. The radicals and the extremists can claim they were justified in perpetrating such violence and they were deserving of the people’s loyalty in fighting a hate-filled regime that cares only for its self-enrichment at the expense of the common people.

If ISIS and others form and hone that message in an environment where Iraqis are being abandoned because of their ethno-sectarian background, we will find ourselves in a position far worse than in 2014 when the ISIS menace really took hold.