In Mosul’s ruins, Iraq election candidates vow bright future

Thirty-four seats, including three for minority groups, are up for grabs for the melting pot region. (AFP)
Updated 02 May 2018

In Mosul’s ruins, Iraq election candidates vow bright future

  • The scars left from the months of grueling fighting it took to oust Daesh from Mosul are still visible all over the city
  • The prize is an attractive one and 938 hopefuls are vying for power in Nineveh province, where some 80 percent of the 2.3 million registered voters live in Mosul

MOSUL, Iraq: Election posters plastered on the bullet-riddled wall of a girls’ school in the Old City of Iraq’s Mosul pledge a better future for those casting their ballot at a nationwide vote.
But the scenes of devastation that surround them almost 10 months after the Daesh group (IS) was forced from the country’s second city belie the hopeful claims.
“Iraq is moving forward,” reads an advert for candidate Laith Ahmad Hassan, standing for Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s Victory Alliance at the May 12 parliamentary poll.
“We will continue the process of reconstruction and offer the benefits to the people,” says a poster for contender Fares Sheikh Sadik from a Kurdish party.
The scars left from the months of grueling fighting it took to oust Daesh from Mosul — the Iraqi capital of their so-called “caliphate” — are still visible all over the city.
Streets lie in ruins, decomposing bodies rot beneath rubble and unexploded ordnance poses a constant threat.
Despite this backdrop of devastation, candidates are trying their hardest to drum up support.
They have staged sporting and cultural events, handed out free cake to passersby and hired convoys of cars to cruise around the city blasting out music.
The prize is an attractive one and 938 hopefuls are vying for power in Nineveh province, where some 80 percent of the 2.3 million registered voters live in Mosul.
Thirty-four seats, including three for minority groups, are up for grabs in this melting pot region that has seen ethnic and religious differences often fuel conflict.
While those on the campaign trail are doing their best to sell themselves and their positive vision of Iraq, the people they are trying to convince seem split about the vote.
Mechanic Abu Fayez, 41, has been waiting for hours to receive his voter registration card.
“After the liberation of Mosul it is a national duty to vote to change our lives and not just take advantage of the day off as during previous elections to have a holiday,” he says, his hands and trousers stained with oil.
“We must... elect people who will genuinely represent us and obtain compensation for the material and moral damage we suffered.”
After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Mosul — a majority Sunni Muslim city with Kurdish and Christian minorities — became a stronghold for Al-Qaeda and supporters of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.
At the last elections in 2014 — just before Daesh seized control — only 50 percent of voters in the city cast their ballots, with many put off by threats made by jihadists.
This time around unemployed Ammar Raad says he will skip the elections again.
“I came to collect my voter card so that others can’t use it illegally, but I am going to destroy it,” he says, standing in front of his wrecked house.
“I turned down 75,000 dinars that one candidate offered me to vote for him. No one inspires my confidence.”
This lack of trust in the politicians is palpable, as many consider that they simply fled when Daesh swept into Mosul in June 2014 and abandoned residents to their fate.
“I am going to vote, but to kick out the corrupt and the old faces who have done nothing,” says Abu Ahmad, a 55-year-old retiree.
As a sign of the upheavals in the province since the last vote, this time round some 75 percent of candidates are newcomers and the traditional Sunni parties have changed their names to avoid past associations.
“There is the risk that there could be a political earthquake that could shake up the province,” says political analyst Hamed Ali.
“New alliances supported by the security forces on the ground will create a new reality.”
The victory over Daesh — which Abadi declared across Iraq in December — was achieved with the help of paramilitary groups fighting alongside the armed forces as part of the Hashed Al-Shaabi Popular Mobilization Units.
The groups — who followed a call from top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani to battle Daesh — are still entrenched around the region and retain major clout.
“The militias are omnipresent in the province and control the security, and this favors the parties linked to them,” says lawmaker Farah Sarraj, who is running for the secular National Alliance of Vice President Ayad Allawi.
Sarraj said that with Mosul and the surrounding region still struggling to recover she also has fears that the vote could be rigged.
“Only some 20 percent of those displaced have returned to Mosul and the names of thousands of martyrs and disappeared are still on voting lists,” she says.
“It is the same situation with many members of IS who have now fled the country.”


Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

Updated 21 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.

A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”

A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.