Rudaw in Mosul: Jihadists In Charge of Sunni Heartland

13-6-2014 – Rudaw reporter Hemin Malazadah was among the first journalists visiting the troubled city of Mosul, which is now run by militant jihadists as the government troops fled the area earlier this week. This is his report:

Just a few days ago it was busines as usual in Mosul, which has a population of more than two million. Since the ISIS marched in three days ago, tens of thousands of residents have fled to neighboring regions, including the Kurdish governed areas just 60 kilometers north of the city. The ISIS fighters captured Mosul with impressive speed, and without much Iraqi army resistance. Iraqi soldiers appear to have fled in a great hurry, leaving behind not only caches of guns and ammunition, but also personal belongings.

The swift surrender is all the more stunning because of the considerable sums the Iraqi government had lately dedicated to modernizing its army. Last year, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed an arms deal with the US worth over $14 billion, which included 36 sophisticated F-16 fighter jets.But the army collapse in Mosul, a predominantly Sunni and Kurdish city, came as no surprise to military observers. A senior officer from the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who wished to remain anonymous, told Rudaw that “Iraq’s army divisions in Mosul were highly corrupt and only one in three soldiers used to report for duty.”   “The army here is made of both the Sunnis and Shiites,” he said. “Some of the Sunni soldiers felt no loyalty towards the Iraqi Army and collaborated with the ISIS jihadists. Everybody knew about it.”Indeed, there has been some collaboration between the jihadists and Iraqi Sunni officers. To back his claim, the Kurdish officer showed an identification card belonging to a former police major, who is now in charge of the main ISIS checkpoint between Mosul and the Kurdish areas.

Foreign fighters of many nationalities appear to be fighting for the ISIS.  A Kurdish driver who claimed to have close ISIS contacts, and who drove passengers in and out of Mosul, told Rudaw that several nationalities, including Kurds Afghans and Syrians, fight alongside the ISIS.

“But the majority are Iraqi Sunnis who support the Baath Party,” the driver said, without giving his own name.The Baath Party was Iraq’s ruling Sunni authority, which was banned after Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003.

The ISIS fighters wanted to destroy relay towers of the two major Kurdish telecommunications operators in Iraq, a former ISIS fighter told Rudaw. “But then the ISIS commanders decided not to blow the towers, because they said ISIS will remain in Mosul and eventually declare its own government here and will need communications to reach the outside world.” To the surprise of the Peshmergas, the ISIS war machine has spared both the Kurdish areas and troops so far. “They have not shown any hostility towards our troops,” a Peshmerga commander said. “But we have a watchful eye on them, because we simply don’t trust them.”

The KRG prides itself on having roughly 200,000 Peshmerga troops, who are generally well-trained and with much better discipline and higher morale than Iraqi forces.ISIS, with its approximately 5,000 jihadist fighters, has shown no intention to broaden its war to include the KRG.More than 1,000 Peshmerga troops stationed in Mosul have so far gone unharmed.

ISIS militants set fire to any Iraqi Army vehicles. Soldiers’ boots and uniforms lay strew by the roadsides. ISIS militants, mostly with concealed faces, hurried in an out of checkpoints, searching suspicious vehicles.

One Kurdish taxi driver heading back to Erbil told Rudaw that the militants have “softened” their actions in Mosul. “They are more polite now towards people and show respect,” he said.One reason, he suspected, is that they intend to “use the residents as human shields” in the event of an air attack. Mosul remains a shadow of its former self, a ghost town with sporadic gunfire heard both close and in the distance, and plumes of smoke rising from fires downtown.