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Analysis: Is Mosul The Next Al-Fallujah?

Recent reports out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul leave little doubt that militants have marked the city as their next base for fighting U.S.-led multinational forces in Iraq. The city has been the scene of sporadic fighting and attacks for several months, and recent reports indicate that the security situation is deteriorating.

Militants launched several attacks in the city on 4 November. According to RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports, Mosul airport was attacked overnight on 3-4 November, and three mortars were fired on a U.S. camp in the city. RFI said gunfire and blasts could be heard throughout Mosul into the morning hours. An elderly Kurdish man, Fahmi Sayyid Sulayman, was gunned down by militants as he returned home from morning prayers at a mosque. The killing prompted Kurdistan Democratic Party official Yunis Ruzbayani to warn armed groups in the city to keep their distance from Kurds in Mosul.

Clashes broke out later in the day between militants and an Iraqi National Guard unit in the Al-Hadba' district of the city, causing large-scale damage to buildings in the area. One woman and two guardsmen were injured in the fighting. Additional National Guard units backed by U.S. forces were called to help quell the violence. Meanwhile, police in the Al-Barid district found an explosive-laden vehicle. Police cordoned off the area and used loudspeakers to call on residents to turn over their weapons to the government.

RFI reported on 28 October that fliers could be seen pasted to walls throughout the city promoting various militant groups. The fliers are also distributed to drivers in the city center warning businessmen and citizens not to cooperate with the multinational forces. The groups issuing the fliers include: The Mujahedin Shura Council; Ansar Al-Sunnah Army; Islamic Army of Iraq; the Secret Islamic Army; Salafis Group; Ansar Al-Islam; the Army of the Prophet's Grandsons (Jaysh Al-Ahfad Al-Rasul); the Green Brigade of Islamic Resistance; Abu Dhar Al-Ghafari Brigade; Al-Hajaj bin Yusif Al-Thaqafi Brigade; Salah Al-Din Al-Ayyubi Brigades; and Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad, the group affiliated with fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. RFI reported that many of the victims targeted by these groups are Kurds and Christians who had no contact with multinational forces.
"Al-Zaman" reported on 2 November that citizens from minority communities have been leaving the city "in droves."

Militant groups are using the city's mosques as their unofficial headquarters, RFI reported. The mosques are equipped with computers and Internet access, and stacked with weapons and related documents issued by the groups. Local imams are reportedly sympathetic to the militants. Their supposed sympathy prompted Ninawa Governor Durayd Kashmula to call on clerics to unite against the militants, RFI reported.

"Al-Zaman" reported on 2 November that citizens from minority communities have been leaving the city "in droves." Christians in the city have complained for months that they were under threat after several attacks. A bomb exploded outside a Mosul church on 1 August, killing one person (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). Christian parties issued a statement late last month that said armed groups in the city were attempting to impose Islamic traditions on their members, including forcing women in the city to wear veils, Al-Diyar television reported on 29 October. They also accused militants of forcing real-estate offices in the city not to deal with Christians. The statement said that panic was spreading throughout the Christian community in Mosul.

Kurdish residents have also been targeted in a number of attacks, and militants last month threatened Kurdish restaurant owners along the Mosul highway to close during the Ramadan fasting, even though travelers are exempt from fasting during Ramadan. The local head of the Kurdistan Women's Union was kidnapped outside her Mosul home on 1 November by armed men in four vehicles. Two tribal leaders, one of them Kurdish, were assassinated in the city last month (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 29 and 8 October). Usama Yusif Kashmula, the previous governor of the province that encompasses Mosul, was assassinated on 14 July.

Numerous attacks have also been launched against Iraqi security forces in the city in recent months. Militants detonated five car bombs and launched Katyusha rockets at the city's police academy on 24 June in one of the deadliest attacks on the city that killed dozens of policemen and civilians and injured scores. Municipalities and Public Works Minister Nasreen Barwari escaped an assassination attempt in the city on 28 March. Two contract workers, a Canadian and an American, were killed there on 29 March.

The 2 November "Al-Zaman" report also said that a new "secret police" service has been established in the city to hunt down the militants. Lieutenant General Rashid Qaid, who heads the force, said the service intends to track down the militants terrorizing the city's 1.8 million inhabitants. "We are disappointed to see the security situation deteriorating so rapidly in a city like Mosul," he said. Qaid and his forces have been in the city for one week and have already arrested a number of militants. "I can assure you that those arrested so far are not part of Mosul's mainstream. They do not belong to the city's major tribes. They are merely lowly elements recruited by forces whose main target is to destabilize the country," he said.

Governor Kashmula announced on 3 November -- in a move reminiscent of Al-Fallujah -- that a division of soldiers comprised of former Iraqi Army troops will soon be on duty in Al-Kasak, outside Mosul. Kashmula said that the unit will be operational by 14 December and will work to restore security to the governorate. The Al-Fallujah Brigades was established and led by former Iraqi Army officers to help quell the violence in that city in April. It was dismantled in September after it was suspected of aiding insurgents in that volatile city (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 16 September 2004).

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have launched a number of operations targeting militants holed up in mosques in recent days. One such operation was carried out on 22 October at the Dhu Al-Nurayn Mosque during Friday prayers. Al-Arabiyah television reported that day that the operation targeted armed militants, while Al-Jazeera interviewed local leader Sheikh Rayyan Tawfiq, who claimed that the operation aimed to locate would-be suicide bombers. Tawfiq contended that the true targets of the operation were the mosque, Ramadan, and Friday prayers, adding, "The aim is to cause humiliation." Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 30 October that some 1,500 Iraqis, including imams and preachers, demonstrated after Friday prayers in the city, calling on U.S. forces to stop raiding the city's mosques.

[For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".]

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