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

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.”

Iran scrambles for European lifeline

A special meeting of the Joint Commission of parties to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on Iran’s nuclear deal is in progress in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 26 May 2018

Iran scrambles for European lifeline

  • ‘Noose is tightening on Tehran’ in face of US sanctions, expert tells Arab News
  • US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

JEDDAH: Signatories of the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna on Friday in a bid to save the agreement after Washington’s dramatic withdrawal earlier this month.

For the first time since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came into force in 2015, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany gathered — at Iran’s request — without the US, which pulled out of the agreement on May 8 and said it would reinstate sanctions.

US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran — concluded under his predecessor Barack Obama — saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Speaking to AFP after Friday’s meeting, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, said: “We are negotiating... to see if they can provide us with a package that can give Iran the benefits of sanctions lifting.” 

“Practical solutions” were required to address Iran’s concerns over its oil exports, banking flows and foreign investment in the country, he said.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov struck an upbeat note after the meeting, saying: “We have all the chances to succeed, provided we have the political will.

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News that it would be against Europe’s interests to stay in the deal.

“The European nations should be cognizant of the fact that the beneficiary of the nuclear deal is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its militias,” he said. “Staying in the deal or submitting to the Iranian regime’s new demands will inflict damage on the EU’s geopolitical and national security interest in the short and long term.”

The EU could not thwart or skirt US primary and secondary sanctions against Iran, he said. Rafizadeh said Iran’s hard-liners were attempting to obtain concessions from the EU by threatening to pull out of the JCPOA.

“But from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, giving concessions means weakness. And although Iran is playing tough, it needs the deal to support Bashar Assad and its proxies.

“The European governments should be aware that the Iranian leaders — moderates and hard-liners — are playing a shrewd tactical game.

“The regime is playing a classic ‘good cop, bad cop’ game. The moderates set the tone on the international stage through their shrewd diplomatic skills and softer tone, while the hard-liners take a tougher stance to help the moderates win more concessions,” said Rafizadeh.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the noose was tightening on Tehran.

“European firms simply cannot afford the penalties imposed by US secondary sanctions on Iran. The Iranian plan to press Europe to compensate for President Trump’s policy decision to restart a crippling sanctions regime is unlikely to prove fruitful,” he told Arab News.

Recent revelations of a covert Iranian facility designed to develop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads will only complicate matters for Tehran as it scrambles for a European lifeline, Shahbandar said.

“The collapse of the JCPOA is likely to prove a major shock to the Iranian economy in the long run,” he said.