Iraq’s Mosul breathes easier after death of ‘butcher’ Al-Baghdadi

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A man walks near damaged al-Nouri mosque, where Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate back in 2014, in the old city of Mosul, Iraq, October 27, 2019. (Reuters)
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People walk on the street, where Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate back in 2014, in the old city of Mosul, Iraq, October 27, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 27 October 2019

Iraq’s Mosul breathes easier after death of ‘butcher’ Al-Baghdadi

  • “The people of Mosul should have a huge party,” said one city resident
  • “I’ve had three strokes because of Daesh,” recalled another

MOSUL: Five years after he made their hometown infamous as the heart of his “caliphate,” residents of Iraq’s Mosul said Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s death should be marked only one way — with “a huge party.”
In June 2014, Al-Baghdadi climbed a set of stairs at the Al-Nuri Mosque in the northern Iraqi city and declared himself “caliph” over millions of people in Iraq and Syria.
The announcement unleashed a volley of violence that killed thousands, displaced millions and left cities across both countries in ruin — including Mosul.
On Sunday, US President Donald Trump announced Al-Baghdadi’s death in a US special operations raid some 700 kilometers (430 miles) away in rural northwestern Syria.
“The people of Mosul should have a huge party,” said 37-year-old city resident Khaled Waleed, wearing a baseball camp and white shirt.
“This criminal, this butcher Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, he killed and slaughtered everyone,” he said bitterly.
Born in Iraq’s western Samarra in 1971, Ibrahim Awad Al-Badri took up the name Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as he rose through the ranks to become Daesh’s feared chieftain.
His fighters burst into Mosul in the summer of 2014 and he made his first and only public appearance shortly afterwards to declare an Islamic “caliphate.”
Extremists imposed a strict interpretation of “sharia” there: music and smoking were banned, and any perceived violations were met with brutal punishments — including public beheadings.
“I’ve had three strokes because of Daesh,” recalled Hani Mahmoud, 54.
“My house burned down. My car was set on fire,” said the portly man with a closely-trimmed white beard.
Umm Alaa, an Iraqi woman dressed in a worn black robe, said Al-Baghdadi “made our lives hell.”
“There’s not a single house they didn’t attack, not a single house they didn’t oppress,” she said.
“This is a festival, a festival for all Iraqis because he destroyed us,” she added.
Daesh kept Mosul in its grip for three years, until a ferocious offensive by US-backed Iraqi troops ousted the extremists in 2017.
But the group left behind a horrifying legacy.
Many of Mosul’s neighborhoods, particularly the historic Old City which was the last area to be retaken, remain in ruins.
Slabs of concrete hang off destroyed and abandoned buildings like oversized hangnails.
The historic Al-Nuri Mosque stands gutted and covered in graffiti, while the adjacent ancient minaret — long the city’s symbol — was blown up in the violence.
Many residents have yet to return because their houses remain littered with unexploded ordnance or are damaged beyond habitation.
There are some 200 mass graves across the country where the remains of thousands of suspected Daesh victims have yet to be identified.
Several thousand people from the Yazidi minority are still missing, five years after Daesh ravaged their heartland near Mosul.
Bashar Hussam, 31, survived life under Daesh — unlike his father.
“My father had a blood clot and they didn’t let us leave until he died in front of my own eyes,” Hussam said.
While glad to see Baghdadi perish, he said it was not quite the happy ending he had hoped for.
“We want the other good news — that they rebuild our houses, that we go back to work and to our livelihoods.”

Airstrikes kill 19 civilians in northwest Syria

Updated 08 December 2019

Airstrikes kill 19 civilians in northwest Syria

  • The airstrikes on Idlib province have intensified over the past few weeks

AL-BARA, Syria: Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes on Saturday killed 19 civilians, eight of them children, in the country’s last major opposition bastion, a war monitor said.

The air raids in the rebel-run northwestern region of Idlib also wounded several others, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Airstrikes by regime ally Russia killed four civilians including a child in the village of Al-Bara in the south of the region, the Observatory said.

An AFP correspondent at the scene saw rescue workers pick through the rubble of a two-story home whose concrete roof had collapsed.

Rescuers carried away the body of a victim wrapped in a blanket on a stretcher.

Russian raids also killed nine civilians including three children in the nearby village of Balyun, the Observatory said.

Crude barrel bombs dropped by government helicopters killed five civilians including three children in the village of Abadeeta, also in the same area.

In the southeast of the embattled region, a raid by a regime aircraft killed another child in the village of Bajghas, the Observatory said.

The Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, says it determines the provenance of an airstrike by looking at flight patterns and the aircraft and munitions involved.

The airstrikes on Idlib province have intensified over the past few weeks as the government appears to be preparing for an offensive on rebel-held areas east of the province to secure the main highway that links the capital Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest and once commercial center.

The Idlib region, which is home to some 3 million people including many displaced by Syria’s civil war, is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back control of Idlib.

Bashar Assad’s forces launched a blistering military campaign against the region in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people from their homes. A cease-fire announced by Moscow has largely held since late August.

But the Observatory says deadly bombardment and skirmishes have persisted, with more than 200 civilians killed in the region since the deal.

Syria’s war has killed over 370,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.

Earlier, the Observatory and the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense said four people, including a child and two women, were killed in airstrikes on the opposition-held village of Bara.

The Observatory said five others were killed in the village of Ibdeita and a child in another village nearby.

Different casualty figures are common in the immediate aftermath of violence in Syria, where an eight-year conflict has killed about 400,000 people, wounded more than a million and displaced half the country’s prewar population.

Syrian troops launched a four-month offensive earlier this year on Idlib, which is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants. The government offensive forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

A fragile cease-fire halted the government advance in late August but has been repeatedly violated in recent weeks.