- Omar Mohammed has been running Mosul Eye since ISIS took power
- He secretly documented the group's brutality
- His blog gained fame and he went public after ISIS' fall
- Now, Omar Mohammed speaks about the bleak future of Mosul
By Ty Joplin
Omar Mohammed lived in Mosul when it was captured by the Islamic State [ISIS]. Secretly documenting the group’s brutality every day on his blog, Mosul Eye, he eventually became a crucial window through which the world could bear witness to the extremist group. But no one knew it was him running the blog, not even his mother.
Mohammed took extraordinary precautions to protect his identity lest ISIS find out who he was. Eventually however, he could not continue living under ISIS. After he saw the group cut the hand off a child, he decided he had to leave. He arranged to be smuggled out via Turkey, but kept documenting the groups’ activities from contacts on the ground.
After the city was liberated, he came out publicly to show his face for the first time. Al Bawaba spoke with Mohammed on the progress of Mosul’s reconstruction, about the core issues within the city that have thus far been unaddressed, and the precarious future the city faces if its infrastructure is rebuilt but its social divisions are not healed.
Ultimately, Mohammed is hopeful about the future of his city, but doubtful of the reconstruction effort in a way many around the world aren’t, and even calls for an international peacekeeping presence in the city to prevent it from falling into chaos again.
(Omar Mohammed immediately jumped into the issue of social divides in Iraq, which are currently not being addressed by the reconstruction process).
Mohammed: “During the ISIS times, the torture of the Christians, the Yazidis were enslaved. There is a serious problem between Sunnis and Shia Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen."
Joplin: Yeah and no one is talking about that.
“They are not talking about this. They think that this is not important, that it will get back to itself, that we shouldn’t work on this. But beside a hospital, for example, or a university, we also need to rebuild the society, at least, to convince the victims that not only Christians were targeted, or not only Yazidis were targeted, but also Sunnis. The Sunnis that ISIS pretended to protect—ISIS killed more than 6,000 Sunnis persons. Also, ISIS destroyed their city.
And, I mean, to be honest. I’m speaking something really critical here. The people of Mosul are still accused of being supportive of ISIS. I mean, this is from Christians and Shia and Yazidis’ point of view. They think the people of Mosul, because they didn’t fight back, because they didn’t do anything in the city to resist ISIS which is not true actually. But still, for oridinary people, it’s not easy to convince them that the Sunnis are also victims of ISIS.”
Children outside Mosul (AFP/FILE)
And so it seems like there’s still massive divides in Mosul that haven’t been healed. People aren’t doing enough to heal them.
“Of course. This city is silent now. The people are so shocked. We are just a few months after the liberation, it’s the aftermath. The people are living in trauma and shock. But once the people get settled, it will be more difficult.”
What will be more difficult?
“When they get settled, the Christians in Nineveh, or the Yazidis or the Shia will be back to their cities. I mean, they will always think about who did this to them, who committed these crimes against them. These kids of things happen between societies, they will always ask and they will have an answer, and they have prepared this answer in their mind. Which is Yazidis will say that Sunnis are responsible. Christians will say that Sunnis are responsible. Shia will say that Sunnis are responsible. In contrast, Sunnis will say that Shia are responsible.
You see, this conflict between the communities will grow, unless there will be efforts to deal with these problems. We also have tribes who were involved with ISIS. Also we have the families of ISIS. We have one or two members of this family, so should we punish all the family? Or just the members who joined ISIS? There’s still more questions.”
A member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) pushes a car (AFP/FILE)
What do you think will be a good way to re-connect these broken pieces of society, between different religions and different cultures who had this and that role with ISIS?
“I mean, it’s not that difficult, but only on one condition. At least for three or four years, Nineveh in general, the whole region of Nineveh, which includes Mosul and the Nineveh plains, southern Mosul. This city should be under international protection for at least four years.”
Under the international protection of the U.N.?
“I don’t know, U.N. or they could find another way, they know how to do it. Through the U.N., [or] through the international coalition, because the international coalition was only to fight against ISIS, as a military coalition, but they also could start or establish part of this coalition to deal with the civil or rebuilding the city and society.
I believe they can do it.
And if they really want to bring back the normality to these cities. It’s also applicable to Raqqa, not to mention Anbar in the western part of Iraq. Also Saladin, which is now completely under the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU), the Iranian-backed militias.
And Sunnis are no more able to live in theri cities unless they pledge allegiance to the PMU to be able to live there. It’s also applicable to West Nineveh, which are rural, tribal areas. Now they are divided between those who follow the Kurds because geographically they are close to the Kurds.
They have to support the Kurds, because they needed protection. [The] other part was sponsored and supported by the PMU. They are Sunni Arab tribes, but they had to pledge allegiance to the PMU. We have also a very serious problem. No one is talking about this anymore, which is Tel Afar.
The serious problem of Tel Afar. Tel Afar has been in this situation since 2005. In 2006, the U.S. Army launched an offensive against Tel Afar to clear it of Al-Qaeda. Tel Afar, you know, is divided between Turkmen Sunni and Turkmen Shia. After the U.S. operation to clear Tel Afar, Sunnis fled the city. But, I mean, let me go back to 2003. Since 2003 to 2006, the city was completely cleared of Turkmen Shia, many were killed by the Sunni branch of the Turkmen.
But from 2006 to 2014, the city under the Shia control and the Sunnis were deported. When ISIS came, the Shia were deported or many of them were killed, their children were kidnapped and it became a Sunni city. When ISIS was defeated in Tel Afar, the city is now completely under Shia control.
I mean, it seems that there is no solution for this city.”
Shiite Tribesmen mach in their fight against ISIS outside Baghdad (AFP/FILE)
It sounds a lot like ISIS, everybody was focused on the violence of ISIS, but forget that it’s followed larger patterns of sectarianism that’s already been there is Iraq.
“Yeah. This is an example of how critical the problems are in Iraq, especially in Mosul. You also have in Nineveh, there is a conflict Shabak. Shabak are a minority ethnicity, they are mixed Kurds and some Iranian-roots, they call themselves Shabak. They are also backed by the PMU. You see, always the hands of the PMU. And they have conflct with the Christians ther. Back to Mosul, the town.
We have now, this kind of silent conflict the people of the city and the tribal people, or the people who come from southern Mosul, the rural areas. It’s kind of a conflict over the control of the city, who is going to control the city, who has the power. I mean, I’m talking here about 43 militias.
So now after ISIS, there’s a power vacuum of who runs Mosul.
“Yeah. This is not less important than the rebuilding. You see, if you go and build the city again, okay this is a critical need now. But if you build it again without resolving the real problems, or the roots of the problems. Don’t build the city, keep it like this.”
What do you mean?
“I mean, why are we rebuilding the city without resolving the real problems? For what? For another Caliph? For another Caliph who comes to enslave the people? Now we will have a Shia Caliph if we keep it like this. I mean, the city is divided between hundreds of parties, groups ruling the city.
There is no power by the government in the city. I mean, it’s divided between PMU, the Sunni militias, the Shia militias, between the Kurds, the Turkmen, different wings--the Turkish wing, the Sunni wing, the Iranian wing. This is the situation in the city. Now they [are] in the Kuwait conference talking about investments, talking about funds to rebuild the city.
How could we convince a company to come to the city in such a situation?”
It sounds like there’s no chance to rebuild Mosul without first repairing the people and their divisions within Mosul.
A mosque in Mosul lays in ruins (AFP/FILE)
Do you think the international coalition could do more than just bomb ISIS out? You mentioned sending peacekeeping troops. But do you think peace keeping troops can help rebuild the social fabric?
“Of course. The most important thing about having international protection in the city is that the people will feel safe again. The people will not feel like their city was taken by ISIS and handed over to another version of ISIS, which is the PMU. So they will feel like there is an international will to rebuild the city, both the infrastructure and the social structure.
Also this will give a chance to the companies that will be protected and safe to work in the city. So it’s connected. The more you give us space for the rebuilding, reconstruction, the more you give space to the people to rebuild their society by themselves. They will feel they are able to go back to the city. That no one is going to target them.”
But it seemed people had really mixed feelings about the international coalition.
“I mean, before 2014, even I myself, I would never be able to talk about getting international protection because I’d be accused of supporting the [U.S.] occupation and these kinds of arguments. But now it’s different. I am in contact with people, who I would call the lights of the city. Even those who were extremely against the existence of the international troops in the city, now they are supporting and they are asking to get international protection.
The situation is different. Mosul is under Iranian, Turkish, Saudi influence. And these groups are preparing themselves for another conflict, and this is going to give ISIS a chance, a good opportunity to come back.”
Mosul's Old City in ruins (AFP/FILE)
The people involved in the reconstruction process are emphasizing de-mining, the basics of reconstruction. Do you think that kind of thinking leaves something important out?
“To be honest with you, I’m not trying to be dark with you. I’m not trying to make the situation so dark. But to be honest, regarding the mines. Let me talk about the bodies. In the old city, the dead bodies underneath the rubble. The civil defense have been working there for about two months with really small tools. They don’t have enough equipment to work. Now they have stopped, because it’s enough. They say we have no more equipment to deal with such missions.
About 5,000 dead bodies have been extracted. And they also estimate that there at least 2,000 [still left buried]. The reports that are coming from the Old City, which is the most damaged part of Mosul. They are unable to extract the bodies, how could the clear the cities from the mines? We are not talking about a small land or two houses that were destroyed, so any company could come and build. We are talking about a huge city. We are talking about two million internally displaced persons (IDPs). They are living in the camps.
But the people coming back, they can’t find their daily needs. They have no more money to rebuild or reopen their shops. There are no schools. There are schools that are partially damaged. Children are studying in a destroyed school. Look at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), they are spending a lot of money on the eastern part of the city, even though that area is less damaged… Why didn’t they spend more money getting the IDPs back to the city?
Politicians are using this now. They are saying, ‘look at your city, it is destroyed, the Shia government is doing nothing.’ And the hate is growing…People may feel that the government destroyed their city so they should rise against the government. This is the argument ISIS used in 2014. Why should we keep the same mistakes?”
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