Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Last 12 hours in Mosul: Conflicting Narratives

Mosul Yesterday, Captured by Ahmed Al Omary, close to the Military Airport 

In the last 24 hours, Iraq has witnessed a major development in its politics. Headlines in Arabic media was quick to frame this as suqoot سقوط Mosul city, which roughly translates to the Fall of Mosul city allegedly in the arms of ISIS or ISIL, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a globally-recognised insurgent active group with ties to Al Qaeda. This terminology is very reminiscent of the framing of the news on Baghdad on the 9th April 2003, when Baghdad was officially captured by American troops.

Images circulating on the web shows  burnt Iraqi Army vehicles and army clothes on the streets of the city in a sign of the defeat of the Army after almost 4 days of clashes with the armed groups. Two Iraqi army officers said security forces had received orders to leave the city after militants managed to capture the Ghizlani army base in southern Mosul and set more than 1000 prisoners from different high-security prisons around the city.

On Monday, the governor of Mosul Atheel Al Nujaifi made a public plea to the people of the city to fight militants, before he escaped the provincial headquarters in Mosul.
Almost all media narratives both global and local have called for international action against what could be a catastrophic regression in the current affairs of Iraq. After All, Mosul is not only the largest city in Iraq, but it is also in close proximity to Irbil and the Kurdish borders, which in result risks the spill of violence to the relatively-peaceful Kurdish region in Iraq.

With the escalating headlines and developments in Iraq, one is faced with conflicting stories and on-ground testimonials from Iraqis in the city that stayed behind and could not flee the city.  Reasons for that are many including the closure of the Kurdish borders for some time which forced families to go back to their homes. Upon their return, and according to several Iraqis I spoke to who prefer to remain un-named, they were welcomed by the militants who assured them that the city was accessible and safe, with a sense of ownership to the place: “ Of course you can come back, please feel free to go wherever you want, no one will stop you.”

Many facebook statuses and tweets then started documenting Mosul post-capture, in a surprising twist to usual media narratives on ISIS’s politics in sieged cities. Reports that only army vehicles and headquarters were burnt and destroyed, but barricades that once adorned every street were removed, and for the first time as one facebook user claims “ I managed to drive freely in my city”. Other residents also claimed that the armed groups were helping young men patrol and protect their neighbourhoods from any possible looting, and were active in protecting banks, abandoned homes and roads.
Interesting testimonials from several residents in Mosul which clash with the main narrative circulated in Media that the city is in fact in more danger than it used to be. Several political analysts on Iraqi non-governmental TV channels claimed that this ‘dignified treatment of civilians’ is something they are pleasantly surprised with and also prefer to what they described as a continuous dehumanisation and humiliation of the Iraqi Army in checkpoints around the city. This could be very much understood as sectarian bias against the army,  but it also serves as an indication that the armed-groups are indeed not targeting civilians in the city (yet).

Many other ‘rumours’ are also circulating on social media platforms, some argue that the armed groups are in fact a group of revolutionary iraqis led by members of the old Iraqi Army, and is in process to ‘free’ the country from the current regime and the control of the Iran-backed government. Several ISIS twitter accounts proclaiming the end of Sykes-Picot in an alarming signal that this could indeed mean - if not immediate - the redrawing of the region map.

Now Al Maliki urged the Parliament to consider this an emergency state, and the Iraqi Parliament in an act of “urgency” decided to meet on Thursday to discuss the much-needed solutions for this catastrophic development in Iraq. With the speed of events in the country, and the clear inability of the army and the police to protect civilians and the city; the next couple of days could see the seizure of other smaller but crucial cities in Iraq, such as Salahudeen, Samara and perhaps even reaching the borders of the capital Baghdad.

The expected reactions from the central government could very well mirror the assaults on Fallujah and other cities in Iraq that have been under siege and attack for more than 6 months. Especially now that Al Maliki has asked for international support from the UN and the EU and Arab League in an attempt to ‘cleanse’ the cities from the insurgents. The government will probably use all kinds of weapons and means without counting for civilian casualties, like the cases in Fallujah and other cities in Iraq.

In an undeniable timely-events, with the results of the Iraqi elections, this could very well mean the ‘need’ to assert Maliki’s position as Prime Minister for the next 4 years; to rid the country from terrorism. It could also possibly mean the eradication of the second-largest city in Iraq and the eruption of sectarian violence and war. The next couple of days and arguably hours are quite critical and detrimental in the current power-play in the region. Narratives are indeed changing.

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