Unrest in Iraq spreads beyond city of Mosul
London - Unrest in Iraq has resurfaced in areas outside of Mosul, where Iraqi forces backed by a US-led coalition have been battling Islamic State (ISIS) militants since October.
In an apparent attempt to divert attention from Mosul, ISIS militants opened fire and set off explosives in a suicide attack in the city of Tikrit, killing 31 people and wounding 42 others.
A police lieutenant-colonel said three militants killed three policemen in central Tikrit and then fired on civilians before setting off bombs in homes.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out by seven militants who clashed with security forces until they ran out of ammunition and then detonated explosive belts.
Ayad al-Jumaili, the man believed to be the deputy to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in an air strike in the region of al- Qaim near the border with Syria, Iraqi state television TV said.
Colonel Joe Scrocca, a spokesman for the Baghdad-based US-led coalition, said ISIS militants in Mosul were estimated to be down to fewer than 1,000.
The Iraqi government encouraged Mosul residents not to flee during the fighting, a policy aimed at easing the burden of widespread displacement but which heightens the risk of injury or death for civilians.
“Iraqi Air Force aircraft dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets… containing procedures and recommendations for citizens” in western Mosul and other ISIS-held areas, said Iraq’s Joint Operations Command.
The advice urged “remaining inside houses and staying away from known (ISIS) sites such as headquarters, checkpoints, artillery positions and barracks, because they will be targets for our aircraft”.
Irrespective of whether they are directly targeted, residents have been the victims of attacks aimed at ISIS fighters in areas populated by hundreds of thousands of civilians.
There are mounting concerns about civilian casualties in the final phases of the assault and questions about how quickly Mosul can be rebuilt, repopulated and governed in a way that avoids alienating its Sunni-majority population.
The International Organisation for Migration put the number of displaced at 302,400, many of whom live in refugee camps just outside the city.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during a visit to the Hasan Sham camp for the displaced, appealed for more aid for the people of Mosul. “We don’t have the resources that are necessary to support these people and we don’t have the international solidarity that is needed,” Guterres said.
“Unfortunately, our programme here is only funded at 8%. That shows how limited our resources are,” he said. “These people have suffered enormously and they go on suffering. We need more solidarity from the international community.”
In Qayara, 60km south of Mosul, doctors at the main hospital said they sometimes received so many dead bodies from Mosul that they did not all fit in the refrigerator unit and had to be left in the corridors.
“We asked for shelves but they gave us nothing,” Dr Mansour Marouf, the hospital’s chief surgeon, told the Associated Press.
The hospital receives no government support — even doctors’ salaries are covered by a foreign aid organisation. “It is shameful to say this but we have received no help and no support from the government at all even though the town was liberated eight months ago,” the doctor said.
In northern Iraq, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Kurdistan Regional Government forces fired rubber and live bullets and tear gas at protesters in Sinjar, killing one person and wounding at least seven.
“We have not seen any evidence that military forces in Sinjar had a legitimate reason to fire on protesters, who presented no apparent risk to their lives or others,” said Lama Fakih, HRW’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa division. “The government should urgently investigate this apparently unwarranted use of deadly force.”
In Baghdad, the problem of corruption remains rampant and sometimes hinders the fight against ISIS.
Trade Ministry officials were accused of helping ISIS sell wheat smuggled from Syria into Iraq, Labour Minister Mohammed al-Sudani told Reuters.
Hassan al-Yasiri, head of Iraq’s independent anti-graft body, the Commission of Integrity, said officers were still collecting part of the salaries of some soldiers in return for allowing them to go on indefinite leave.
“There are 1 million people in the army. In all countries it is very hard to eliminate corruption among these large numbers,” Yasiri told Reuters. The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies.