“If the Americans leave immediately, then someone might remember them as liberators. If, however, they continue the occupation, then everyone will remember them only as occupiers. This situation of war, the attack on our country, can trigger grievous results.”
Those were the prophetic words of Father Jawadat al Kaza answering our questions in the Latin basilica of Notre Dame of Mosul back in 2003. Saddam Hussein had been forced to flee a few days prior to that. But in Mosul we had already seen the first signs of the disaster triggered by the invasion and the Anglo-American occupation of of Iraq.
The historic mosque of Jonah (Yunis) located on the al-Tawbah (Repentance) Hill and those of Wadi al-Akhdar and Najib Jader were destroyed by ISIS. The expulsion of Christians, Yezidis, Kurds and other minorities are just some of the consequences of American policies that have destroyed Iraq.
Washington first gave the country to the Shi’ite majority, then gave freedom to the Gulf allies to assist and finance the revolt of the Sunni minority. Their funds have contributed to the emergence of armed jihadist groups that have marked 13 years of bloody history in Iraq, including Tawhid wal Jihad, which later became the Islamic State in Iraq, an ally of al Qaeda, and, finally ISIS, the ruler of northern Iraq and Syria for over two years.
All of this could already be felt in Mosul after the fall of Saddam Hussein. A tense calm dominated the center of the city, which has grown enormously in recent decades, so much so that in 2003 it was already the third largest Iraqi city with 1.2 million inhabitants. In the popular market on the west bank of the Tigris River, with its fragrant spices and oriental aromas, the presence of Westerners was not welcome. Everyone identified as allies of the Americans and responsible for the enormous suffering endured by the people during 12 years of international embargo against Iraq. A few days before our arrival, some residents had been killed by Marines during a protest against the U.S. and Washington’s decision to replace the “cream” of the U.S. armed forces with ordinary soldiers did not help to change the climate.
Another factor that increased tension was also the unwelcome presence of Kurdish fighters in different areas of the city, much less appreciated than another valiant Kurdish fighter, Saladin, who is honored in Mosul with a statue that shows the way of revenge: the liberation of Jerusalem from the Crusaders. On the wave of the American advance, the peshmerga had gone to Mosul taking control of the entire area up to university, along a bank of the Tigris River. The Arab population would only shake their heads and point the finger at the United States.
“There are many Kurds in our city, we can live together, but here we are in Mosul, in Iraq, not in Kurdistan,” Alaa, a taxi driver, said to us. The flags of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, waving on top of some public buildings, were confronted by many opposing Iraq drivers who put the Iraqi flag on their cars. Not long after, these flags would become black and many former Iraqi army soldiers and militants of the Baath Party would wave them, the party dissolved irresponsibly by former U.S. governor of Iraq Paul Bremer.
It is difficult to write of Mosul today without being there. For sure it’s very different than in 2003, without the many components that were part of its population for centuries. Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, Yazidis and many Catholic Christians, Protestants, Chaldeans, Armenians, Greek Orthodox, Nestorian. Certainly Father Jawadat has escaped, like all Christians. And imagining a return to the Mosul before 2003 is almost impossible.
However, it is only right to try to remedy, at least in part, the devastating mistakes made in Iraq during 25 years of war and the insane policy of the United States, the West and the petromonarchies. The recapture of Mosul, if it ever happens, will not lead to any concrete results unless the military offensive is presented as a project of Iraq for all Iraqis, not the plan of the victor in charge.
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