Unrest in Iraq spreads beyond city of Mosul

Sunday 09/04/2017
New battlefield. Iraqi people with security forces walk near a burned vehicle at the site of an attack in Tikrit, on April 5th. (Reuters)

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.