Nearly a year since fall of Iraq’s Mosul, hunt for bodies goes on

Mosul fire crews and police are still extracting bodies from the ruins of the shattered Old City. (AFP)
Updated 21 May 2018
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Nearly a year since fall of Iraq’s Mosul, hunt for bodies goes on

  • “The operations will continue until all the corpses are extracted” from the heart of the city
  • The rubble makes it impossible to bring in heavy construction machinery

MOSUL: Atop an enormous mound of rubble under blistering sun in Iraq’s second city Mosul, fire crews and police chip away at a grim but vital task.
Some 10 months after dislodging the Daesh group, they are still extracting bodies from the ruins of the shattered Old City.
“Over three days, 763 bodies have been pulled from the rubble and buried,” Lt. Col. Rabie Ibrahim says.
Despite the overpowering stench, the men work relentlessly, braving unexploded munitions in an area devastated by the nine-month battle.
“The operations will continue until all the corpses are extracted” from the heart of the city, Ibrahim says.
Civilians’ bodies that can be identified are handed to their families, while the remains of Daesh combatants are buried in a mass grave on the western outskirts of Mosul.
Some of the putrefied corpses are sent to Nineveh province’s health services, Ibrahim adds.
The workers, their faces covered with masks or scarves, move with great caution.
The bodies of jihadists are sometimes still clad in suicide belts.
Grenades, homemade bombs and other crude contraptions left by Daesh fighters during their retreat to Syria pose a constant threat.
The improvised boobytraps are hidden under multiple layers and obstacles — the rubble of collapsed homes, disemboweled furniture and uprooted trees, in some places subsiding into the waters of the Tigris that meander murkily below.
Where a maze of cobbled streets was once lined with homes and market stalls, there is now a formless mess populated by stray animals, insects and disease.
The destruction is so great that some residents cannot pinpoint the remnants of their homes or even their street as they try to direct salvage workers to the remains of loved ones.
The rubble makes it impossible to bring in heavy construction machinery, says General Hossam Khalil, who leads Nineveh province’s civil defense force.
His men therefore have to rely on smaller vehicles, but Mosul “only has a few,” he says.
There is a pressure to work as quickly as conditions will allow: residents are exhausted by three years of Daesh rule, nine months of brutal urban combat and now the slow pace of reconstruction.
“But it’s impossible, with this stench, this pollution and the epidemics they can cause,” says Othmane Saad, an unemployed 40-year-old whose home in the old city is entirely destroyed.
Another resident, 33-year-old Abu Adel, wants the authorities “to clear all the corpses as quickly as possible” and to “compensate residents so they can rebuild, then establish public services.”
But the task is titanic.
Since Mosul was retaken in July, “2,838 bodies, including 600 Daesh members, have been retrieved from the rubble,” governor Naufel Sultane says.
Even after the corpses are taken away and buried, they leave harmful bacteria which the Tigris can carry far beyond the old city.
The authorities insist drinking water stations are unaffected and that they pump water from the Tigris’ central depths, avoiding the banks and other shallows.
But gastroenterologist Ahmed Ibrahim advises caution.
“You must boil water before drinking it and don’t use river water, either for bathing or washing,” he says.
Birds and fish “can carry typhus, bilharzia and gastroenteritis,” he adds.


US downgrades Palestinian mission into Israel embassy

Updated 17 min 55 sec ago
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US downgrades Palestinian mission into Israel embassy

WASHINGTON: The United States downgraded its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians on Thursday, placing it under the authority of the US embassy to Israel.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the consulate general, a separate office which handled dealings with the Palestinians, would be replaced by a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the controversial new US embassy in Jerusalem.
The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is reviled by Palestinians over his support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership.
The change, quickly condemned by the Palestinians, follows a series of setbacks for them at the hands of President Donald Trump, who has turned US policy sharply toward Israel.
Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel.
“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. It does not signal a change of US policy,” Pompeo said in a statement.
He said the United States “continues to take no position” on how any peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians would take shape.
The Palestinian leadership rejected Pompeo’s “efficiency” explanation.
The decision has “a lot to do with pleasing an ideological US team that is willing to disband the foundations of American foreign policy, and of the international system, in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes,” the Palestinians’ chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
“The Trump administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he added.
International powers have for decades maintained separate and autonomous representations to Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of supporting the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.
They have insisted that the status of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians see as their capital, should be negotiated between the parties as part of any end deal.
Last December, Trump reversed longstanding US policy and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to boycott his administration.
The embassy was officially transferred on May 14.
Since then, the Trump administration has forced the Palestinians to shutter their Washington mission and has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, in a bid to force them to the negotiating table.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, alongside Friedman and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been working for months on a still-secret peace proposal, which Palestinians fear will be overly one-sided toward Israel.
The move Thursday nearly closes off all direct diplomatic contacts between the United States and the Palestinians, analysts said.
Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the US would be the only major power without a separate, independent representative office for the Palestinians.
“Other countries have gone to great lengths to avoid having the same representatives to Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he told AFP.
Robert Danin, a former senior US government official dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues, said the move was a victory for “hard right partisans” who have sought to eliminate the Palestinian-focused consulate general “for decades.”
The consulate general “is THE eyes and ears into Palestinian politics and society. Its independence from US Embassy Israel provided Washington w/solid, unvarnished reporting and analysis,” he said on Twitter.
But Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor with the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and advocate for the embassy move, said the decision was more evidence the US considered Jerusalem to be fully part of Israel.
“This step confirms that the US recognizes the entire city as Israel’s capital,” he said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended the move, saying the new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the embassy would maintain contacts with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem at the same level as before the change.
“We value our relationship with the Palestinian people. We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with them and, we hope in future, with the Palestinian leadership,” she said via Twitter.