Iraqi militia threatens ISIS supply route to Syria

A woman carrying a handicapped child uses the opportunity to flee during a lull in the fighting as the Iraqi Special Forces 2nd division engage ISIS terrorists while pushing into the Aden neighborhood in Mosul on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2016
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Iraqi militia threatens ISIS supply route to Syria

BAGHDAD/BASHIQA: Iraqi militias said on Wednesday they had driven ISIS terrorists from an air base west of Mosul, a victory which would threaten its supply route from Syria to its last major stronghold in Iraq.

“The airport of Tal Afar has been liberated,” Yusif Al-Kallabi, a spokesman for Popular Mobilization, a coalition of mainly Iranian-backed militias, told Iraqi state TV.
The capture of the base, if confirmed, could be a significant development in the campaign to recapture Mosul, ISIS’ de facto capital since its forces swept through Iraq in 2014 and set up a self-declared caliphate in a swathe of Syria and northern Iraq.
Tal Afar lies about 60 km west of Mosul on the main road to Syria. Its seizure could also alarm Turkey, which is wary of Iraqi involvement in the civil war in Syria.
“Tal Afar will be the starting block for the liberation of all the area...to the Syrian border and beyond the Syria border,” said Hadi Al-Amiri, head of Badr Organization, Popular Mobilization’s largest component, in a video clip.
While the Shiite coalition is fighting ISIS west of Mosul, regular army and police units are trying to advance from the other sides, backed by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters deployed in the north and the east.
Iraqi counter-terrorism forces breached ISIS defenses in east Mosul two weeks ago but have faced resistance from the militants, who have fought back with suicide car bombs, snipers and waves of counter-attacks.
The campaign that began on Oct. 17 with air and ground support from a US-led coalition is the biggest military operation in Iraq in more than a decade of turmoil unleashed by the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Popular Mobilization, known locally by its Arabic name Hashid Shaabi, has said it plans to use Tal Afar base to take the battle against ISIS into Syria, fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad, an ally of Iran. Although it officially reports to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, it is mainly trained and equipped by Iran.
Popular Mobilization’s advance toward Tal Afar, which had a mixed population of mainly Shiite and Sunni Turkmen before ISIS captured it in 2014, has raised the prospect of sectarian strife and alarmed neighboring Turkey.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Turkey was reinforcing its troops on the border with Iraq and would respond if the militias “cause terror” in Tal Afar.
Iraq’s Abadi has sought to calm fears that the operation to recapture Tal Afar would ignite sectarian tension or escalate problems with Turkey, saying the attacking force that would enter the town will reflect its religious and ethnic make-up.


After years of silence, music fills streets of Iraq’s Mosul

Renowned Iraqi maestro and cello player Karim Wasfi performs in Mosul’s war-ravaged Old City on November 10, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 21 November 2018
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After years of silence, music fills streets of Iraq’s Mosul

  • The city even has its own special genre of Arabic ballads, recognized across Iraq and beyond
  • Tahsin Haddad, who heads the local artists’ syndicate, said he is keen to support public arts across the province

MOSUL: For centuries, it was a magnet for artists across the region and churned out Iraq’s best musicians — but recent years saw Mosul suffer a devastating musical purge.
For three years until last summer, the sprawling northern city was under the brutal rule of the Daesh group.
In imposing a city-wide ban on playing or even listening to music, the jihadists smashed and torched instruments.
“It was impossible to bring my instrument with me whenever I left the house,” said city resident Fadel Al-Badri, who hid his precious violin from the rampaging fighters.
Foreshadowing IS’ repression, the 2000s saw Al-Qaeda and other groups impose an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam in several districts of the city.
But with Mosul freed from the grip of IS in July 2017, Iraq’s second city is embarking on a musical comeback.
“After the liberation, songs are back where they truly belong in Mosul,” said Badri, welcoming the return of evening celebrations and festivals.
The 45-year old violinist now has the pleasure of playing in public once more to an audience that claps hands and sings along to traditional local tunes.

Mosul has a rich musical history.
It is the home city of Ziryab, a musician who introduced the oud — the oriental lute popular across the Arab world — to Europe in the 9th century.
One of its more recent musical prodigies is Kazem Al-Saher, the Iraqi crooner-turned-talent judge known around the region.
The city even has its own special genre of Arabic ballads, recognized across Iraq and beyond.
From folkloric shows and philharmonic concerts to weddings and other national holidays, song and dance have traditionally filled the streets and surrounding air.
But that meant nothing to IS, which ravaged Mosul’s heritage — musical and otherwise — when it took the city as part of a lightning offensive across Iraq in 2014.
The jihadists began by destroying the statue of celebrated ballad virtuoso Mulla Uthman Al-Mosuli, and then turned their attention to destroying instruments across the city.
IS also forced musicians in Mosul to sign a pledge that they would never play or sing again, which was then posted in public places like mosques.
Singer Ahmed Al-Saher, 33, said it was humiliating.
“I couldn’t leave Mosul after they made me sign because of my sick mother. I had to stay here under all that pressure and fear of the unknown,” he recalled.
Ordinary residents, as well as musicians, are keen to celebrate the return of artistic freedom.
“Terrorism failed in killing Mosulites’ love for art in all forms. It’s been born again, despite the destruction,” said Amneh Al-Hayyali.
The 38-year-old brought her husband, son, and daughter to watch a late-night concert in a cultural center in east Mosul.
“Today, after the dark era of beheadings, lashings, beards and veils being imposed on us... we sing,” she said.

But bringing Mosul’s artistic scene back to its former heyday will not be easy.
Tahsin Haddad, who heads the local artists’ syndicate, said he is keen to support public arts across the province.
“But we are in huge need of support from the central government in Baghdad, especially because Mosul currently has no stages, movie theaters, or art spaces,” he told AFP.
Without these venues, artists play in local cafes and public squares.
Celebrated Iraqi musician Karim Wasfi recently performed in a Mosul park where IS once infamously trained its child soldiers.
Earlier this month, Iraqi artists from around the country swarmed to the city for a cultural festival at Mosul University.
Performers stomped the dabkeh — a traditional Arabic line dance — and painters brought their works to display on the campus.
Glamorous Iraqi artist Adiba traveled from Baghdad with an entourage of peers.
“I am so happy to be in Mosul, singing here after it was freed from the grip” of IS, she said, moments before stepping on stage.
“Artists — Iraqi, Arab, foreign — should all come play festivals here.”