Fears of bombs, Daesh cells haunt Mosul months after ‘liberation’

A family stands outside its tent in the Hamam Alil camp for displaced people, south of Mosul, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 17 November 2017
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Fears of bombs, Daesh cells haunt Mosul months after ‘liberation’

MOSUL, Iraq: Faleh has only one dream: To return to his home in the ravaged Old City of Iraq’s Mosul.
But, more than four months after government forces declared victory in their operation to push Daesh out of its largest stronghold, moving back into his house remains a distant prospect.
“I would love to go back and rebuild my house, but the security forces don’t allow it,” the unemployed father-of-three, 29, told AFP.
While the fierce street battles to reclaim the winding alleyways of the second city’s historic center ended in July, officials and residents say the deadly legacy of terrorist rule still haunts Mosul’s old heart.
The famed area that once boasted traditional houses, mosques and churches is now largely a deserted tangle of metal and rubble — stalked by fears of booby traps left behind by Daesh or sleeper cells of fighters ready to strike at any moment.
“Civilians regularly fall victim to explosions,” said Ghazwan Al-Dauaui, who is in charge of human rights for the local authorities.
Only the sound of the nearby Tigris River or the noises of stray animals can be heard among the ruins of buildings that still bare Daesh slogans.
Every once in while, a blast rings out as the security forces combing the Old City detonate ordnance left behind. But their main job still remains hunting for any Daesh members who might have managed to go to ground when government troops arrived.
“IS (Daesh) fighters are still hiding in cellars where rubble has not been cleared away,” said Khalaf Al-Hadidi, a member of the provincial council. “They survive thanks to stores of food and water.”
Hadidi said that Iraqi personnel regularly flush out and kill fighters but they “do not announce” it because the authorities are desperate to convince the population that they are finished with Daesh.
In this limbo of fear, it is no surprise that rumors swirl.
One has it that some terrorists manage not to come out for months as they feed intravenously and wear adult nappies.
Sociologist Hamed Al-Zubeidi, who is based in Mosul, says that so long as these “sleeper cells” remain, life cannot return to the city’s historic center.
“It delays the reconstruction and will lead to a new collapse of security,” he said.
For now, life in Mosul appears to be a tale of two cities. Compared to the west bank of the Tigris where the Old City is located, the districts on the east bank are “paradise,” says 28-year-old civil servant Safad Yassin. He has decided to rent a flat for his family across the river, while they wait, he hopes, to return to their home.
Provincial police chief Wathiq Al-Hamdani says that in east Mosul “95 percent of residents have returned to their homes.”
Some 39,000 families have supposedly moved back into outlying districts on the west bank but not to the Old City.
“Stabilizing the situation will take some more time, a lot of effort and the rebuilding of public services,” Hamdani said.
For the few who have returned, the nights in the Old City are filled with anxiety as each sound stirs fears of unseen threats. “All sorts of rumors are spreading because of these noises,” said Umm Mohammed, 33. “But perhaps it is only the wind blowing through the ruins.”


Assad calls on Syria’s Druze minority to do military service

Updated 12 min 20 sec ago
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Assad calls on Syria’s Druze minority to do military service

  • Since the conflict erupted in 2011, thousands of Druze, especially those in Sweida, have refused to be conscripted, instead joining local militias promising to protect the region
  • The main way the Druze community could support the army was to do military service, Assad said

DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar Assad has called on the country’s Druze community to do military service, days after members of the minority were released following a mass abduction in July by the Daesh group.
Sweida province is the heartland of Syria’s Druze minority, who made up around three percent of the country’s pre-war population — or around 700,000 people.
Since the conflict erupted in 2011, thousands of Druze, especially those in Sweida, have refused to be conscripted, instead joining local militias promising to protect the region.
Damascus has so far turned a blind eye as long as the Druze militias do not ally with rebel groups.
Speaking to a group of former hostages and their families on Tuesday, Assad thanked the army, saying that without them “the abducted people would not have been freed.”
“We owe a great debt to (the army) and as for you... your responsibility is even greater,” he said in a video published on the presidency’s official Telegram account.
The main way the Druze community could support the army was to do military service, Assad added.
The Druze, followers of a secretive offshoot of Islam, are considered heretics by the Sunni extremists of Daesh.
Daesh militants abducted about 30 people — mostly women and children — from Sweida in late July during the deadliest attack on the Druze during the Syrian civil war.
Some of the hostages died while others were freed last month in a prisoner swap. The remaining 19, mostly women and children, were released last week.
Before the war began, Syrian men aged 18 and older had to serve up to two years in the army, after which they became reserves available for call-up in times of crisis.
In the past seven years, fatalities, injuries and defections are estimated to have halved the once 300,000-strong army.
To compensate, the force has relied on reservists and militias as well as indefinitely extending military service for young conscripts.