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Iraq: Troubled Town Mosul Very Different From Al-Fallujah

A U.S. soldier patrolling the streets in Mosul (file photo) Iraq's third-largest city, Mosul, has become a recent trouble spot since U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a major offensive to retake the insurgent stronghold of Al-Fallujah in November. Soon after the Al-Fallujah operation, insurgents in Mosul attacked police stations, killing dozens of coalition troops and Iraqis cooperating with them. The interim Iraqi government has pledged to take back control of the city. But analysts caution that Mosul presents a different challenge for the U.S.-led coalition than did Al-Fallujah.

Prague, 10 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Just a year ago the northern Iraqi town of Mosul was relatively peaceful -- but now the situation seems to be going from bad to worse.

Mosul has become more and more volatile in recent months, especially since the U.S.-led assault on the city of Al-Fallujah in November.

In the most notorious incident in the town, 20 people were killed in an attack on a dining hall at a U.S. military base in December 2004. To make things worse, last week a U.S. plane accidentally dropped a bomb on a house near Mosul, killing several Iraqis.

Though anti-American sentiments run high in Mosul as in other places in the country, the city is unique in several respects.
"There was a lot of acceptance among Iraqis about the attack on Al-Fallujah. There will be no such acceptance if coalition multinational forces would wage a similar attack on Mosul."

Mosul is the biblical town of Ninevah, founded by Assyrians, though archeological findings suggest the area was inhabited for some 8,000 years. It was an important point on trade routes linking Asia and Europe. It was ruled by many -- the Muslim Umayyad dynasty, the Abbasids, the Ottomans. Britain took charge of the city after World War I. It finally became part of the new Iraqi state in 1925, when the League of Nations dismissed Turkey's claims to the city.

Yahia Said is a researcher at the London School of Economics. He says Mosul, a city of about 2 million inhabitants, presents a complicated religious and national mix.

"It's an ethnically mixed city. There are Kurds there; they are in the eastern parts. The Arabs who live there have their own dialect. They are related in tribes that straddle the border with Syria," Said says.

Said says it is difficult to discuss statistics in Iraq, and figures are often disputed. Mosul is considered to be the furthest point of Arab territorial penetration in northern Iraq and as many as half the town's residents may be Sunni Arabs.

Some of these were brought to the area by then President Saddam Hussein in an effort to dilute the Kurdish population. Hussein clearly understood that Mosul marked a volatile border between Iraq's Kurdish and Sunni Arab populations.

Said says anti-American sentiments and unrest in Mosul -- at least in part -- can be explained by the strong position of the former ruling Ba'ath Party there.

"Mosul is the hometown of the Ba'ath Party. That's where the Ba'ath Party before Saddam Hussein emerged. It was historically the city, which included most people who ideologically believed in pan-Arabism and Ba'athism. It's also home to most of the high-ranking officers in the Iraqi Army under Hussein," Said says.

Mosul is the place where Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, were found hiding before U.S. troops stormed their haven, killing them both.

Said says there is no quick military fixes for Mosul. He says a so-called "Al-Fallujah solution" applied in Mosul might lead to very dire consequences.

"The attack on Al-Fallujah was relatively easy because Al-Fallujah was demonized. It had acquired this image of this evil town, with Arab militants beheading people, where all the terrorist attacks are emanating from and so on. So there was a lot of acceptance among Iraqis about the attack on Al-Fallujah. There will be no such acceptance if coalition multinational forces would wage a similar attack on Mosul. There will be an outrage across the country," Said says.

Said says the U.S. storming of Al-Fallujah in November was one of the causes of the anticoalition resistance in Mosul. The storming caused resentment among Sunni Arabs in Mosul who saw the military action as heavy-handed.