Mosul (AsiaNews) – Another day has gone by without any news about the fate of Mgr Faraj Rahho, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, who was abducted on 29 February near the city’s Holy Spirit Church. Concerns about his health are mounting as Iraqi and US troops try ways to ‘clean up’ the city, al-Qaeda’s last urban stronghold in the country.
US officials and Iraqi authorities have acknowledged that the situation on the ground is not good. Whilst the US is spending million to repair the Mosul embankment and add checkpoints along the barrier, it also plans more permanent US-Iraqi security stations, or garrisons.
But as Iraqi military and civilian leaders look on, they say that the security improvements alone will not end the cycle of violence in Mosul. A political solution is needed as well as improved economic opportunities.
Military and political efforts
US-led coalition forces began fighting terrorism in the south—in Basra, Ramadi, Baquba and Baghdad—where Iran and Syria remain influential. As the US proceeded from place to place the terrorists moved north, concentrating in Mosul which for years had been left to itself.
Local sources told AsiaNews that 90 per cent of the city is in the hands of terrorists and criminal gangs. Some speak of an Islamic government in place.
Apparently weapon supplies are among the conditions set by Monsignor Rahho’s kidnappers, which goes to show that jihad as much as easy money is behind abductions by extremists in the area.
Nineveh Province is home to nearly 3 million people, half of whom live in the capital, Mosul. At least 60 percent are Sunni Arab with the rest divided among Kurds, Kurdish-speaking Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities.
This ethnic and religious mix continues to fuel Mosul's volatility and has turned the city into a political tinderbox.
Former Saddam’s loyalists and local Sunnis are in fact pitted against Shia and Kurdish forces.
The animosity toward Kurds, who some charge are trying to gain a foothold in the city to expand their own autonomous region, runs deep among many Sunni Arabs.
The Christian Science Monitor, which recently published a long report on the area, quoted Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab MP for Mosul, who claims that “90 per cent of the present resistance would die out if the peshmerga left Mosul,”
Few hopes are placed in the offensive the US announced in Baghdad in January.
“There is no military operation in the traditional sense in Mosul because the enemy is amongst our sons and brothers, taking advantage of social and religious sympathies,” said Major General Riad Jalal, who coordinates the activities of the Iraqi Army, police, and border guard in the province..
The social situation
Popular dissatisfaction over inhuman living conditions in the area has helped the terrorists in their fight against the “invader.”
For this reason the US is trying to co-opt local sheikhs and tribal leaders as it did in al-Anbar province. They hope that with their influence they can draw their people away from the ranks of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq.
For locals life has become “hell”. The city averages 60 to 80 roadside bombs—exploded or found—per week; not to mention abductions, threats and daily killings.
For the US Baghdad should spend more on basic services. Last week Iraq's Minister of Planning and Development Ali Baban saw first hand the city’s economic needs, ranging from chronic power shortages, destroyed highways and roads, overflowing sewers, and insufficient schools.
The greatest challenge is building trust among the people in the central government and the security forces.