Iraq’s Mosul revives shattered cultural scene with traditional music festival

Special Iraq’s Mosul revives shattered cultural scene with traditional music festival
For those trying to salvage Mosul’s artistic scene, the festival marked an important milestone in the city’s healing process. (AFP)
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Updated 15 April 2022

Iraq’s Mosul revives shattered cultural scene with traditional music festival

Iraq’s Mosul revives shattered cultural scene with traditional music festival
  • The festival featured performers from different cultures and ethno-religious backgrounds
  • Music and the arts were brutally suppressed during Daesh’s four-year rule over Mosul

MOSUL, Iraq: Five years since the battle to dislodge Daesh from Iraq’s northern city of Mosul, a four-day festival of traditional music has taken place with the aim of salvaging the region’s shattered arts scene and promoting cultural coexistence.

The festival, which ran from March 24 to 27 with the support of UNESCO, featured musicians from Mosul and the surrounding province of Nineveh, together with several visiting performers from Europe and further afield.

“It was a dream to have a festival like this,” Khalid Alrawi, an oud player from Mosul, told Arab News. “I hope this kind of festival continues in future. We look forward to it becoming an annual festival, expanded with more activities.”




The festival featured musicians from Mosul and the surrounding province of Nineveh. (AFP)

Besides seeking to revive the city’s once flourishing music scene, ruined by war and the flight of artists abroad, organizers wanted to reflect the region’s true cultural vibrancy and diversity, unbowed by Daesh extremism.

“A new culture of music is here,” Harth Yasin, the festival’s coordinator, told Arab News. “This event will open the door to tourists and let others know more about the city of Mosul, and it will create opportunities for our young talented musicians and artists.”




Seventeen acts took part in the festival, together reflecting the region’s broad ethnic and religious makeup. (AFP)

Seventeen acts took part in the festival, together reflecting the region’s broad ethnic and religious makeup, including Arabs, Kurds, Turkman, Assyrians, and others. The festival also featured performances by musicians from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Nepal.

“We hope there are more events like this with more support in the future in the places that represent the culture and history of Mosul,” Yasin said.




Daesh was dislodged from Iraq’s northern city of Mosul five years ago. (AFP)

Daesh seized control of Mosul and large swathes of Nineveh in June 2014, imposing its extreme interpretation of Islam on the population, which stamped out cultural activities that did not fall in line with the group’s rigid ideology.

In July 2017, after nine months of ferocious urban warfare, the government in Baghdad formally declared Mosul had been liberated, depriving Daesh of its last major stronghold in Iraq.

Victory, however, came at a great cost to the city’s infrastructure and proud identity. Since then, governments and aid agencies have funded projects to help rebuild the precious architecture of the historic old city and its surrounding districts.

Recovering from this period of darkness will take many years, as displaced communities try to salvage their homes and restart the local economy. But, thanks to festivals like this one, color is slowly returning to daily life.




Organizers wanted to reflect the region’s true cultural vibrancy and diversity, unbowed by Daesh extremism. (AFP)

“Mosul was closed to the world. No one knew anything about it. Now, they will know it better,” Talal Al-Shimali, president of the Musical Association’s Nineveh branch, told Arab News.

“It is a very important event here in Mosul. It will strengthen the music scene, and encourage musicians and artists in Mosul to develop and engage with other cultures and music. It is a good initiative, it will benefit the city and its people. The festival represents all voices and the music of all ethnicities and minorities in Mosul.




In July 2017, after nine months of ferocious urban warfare, the government in Baghdad formally declared Mosul had been liberated. (AFP)

“My message to all is to support music in Mosul. Mosul city is tired and needs more support. We ask all international organizations to support and help Mosul. Music in Mosul has been dying day by day over the last couple of years. We can still save it with the help of international and local organizations in Mosul.”

For those trying to salvage Mosul’s artistic scene, the festival marked an important milestone in the city’s healing process.

“Art is the substance of community, economic development, and the backbone of society,” Basma Al-Hussiani, founder of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, told Arab News.

“Art is fundamental for everything here. That is why I tell everyone who is working toward rebuilding Mosul — let art be a big part of it.”


Turkish military’s push into Iraqi territory risks deeper conflict

Turkish military’s push into Iraqi territory risks deeper conflict
Updated 1 min 26 sec ago

Turkish military’s push into Iraqi territory risks deeper conflict

Turkish military’s push into Iraqi territory risks deeper conflict
  • Escalation risks further destabilizing a region where foreign powers have intervened with impunity

SARARO, Iraq: Looming over the deserted village of Sararo in northern Iraq, three Turkish military outposts break the skyline, part of an incursion that forced the residents to flee last year after days of shelling.

The outposts are just some of the dozens of new military bases Turkiye has established on Iraqi soil in the past two years as it steps up its decades-long offensive against Kurdish militants sheltered in the remote and rugged region.

“When Turkiye first came to the area, they set up small portable tents, but in the spring, they set up outposts with bricks and cement,” Sararo’s mayor Abdulrahman Hussein Rashid said in December during a visit to the village, where shell casings and shrapnel still litter the ground.

“They have drones and cameras operating 24/7. They know everything that’s going on,” he said, as drones buzzed overhead in the mountainous terrain 5 km from the frontier.

Turkiye’s advances across the increasingly depopulated border of Iraqi Kurdistan attract little global attention compared to its incursions into Syria or the battle against Daesh, but the escalation risks further destabilizing a region where foreign powers have intervened with impunity, analysts say.

Turkiye could become further embroiled if its new Iraqi bases come under sustained attack, while its growing presence may also embolden Iran to expand military action in Iraq against groups it accuses of fomenting unrest at home, Kurdish officials say.

The former secretary general for Kurdistan’s Peshmerga forces, Jabar Manda, said Turkiye had 29 outposts in Iraq until 2019 but the number has mushroomed as Ankara tries to stop the Kurdistan Workers’ Party launching attacks on its own territory.

“Year after year the outposts have been increasing after the escalation of battles between Turkish forces and the PKK,” he said, estimating the current number at 87, mostly in a strip of border territory about 150 km long and 30 km deep.

A Kurdish official, who declined to be named, also said Turkiye now had about 80 outposts in Iraq. Another Kurdish official said at least 50 had been built in the last two years and that Turkiye’s presence was becoming more permanent.

Asked to comment on its bases in Iraq, Turkiye’s Defense Ministry said its operations there were in line with article 51 of the UN Charter, which gives member states the right to self defense in the event of attacks.

“Our fight against terrorism in northern Iraq is carried out in coordination and close cooperation with the Iraqi authorities,” the ministry said in a statement, which did not address questions about the figures cited by Kurdish officials.

Turkiye’s presence in northern Iraq, which has long been outside the direct control of the Baghdad government, dates back to the 1990s when former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein let Turkish forces advance 5 km into the country to fight the PKK.

Since then, Turkiye has built a significant presence, including one base at Bashiqa 80 km inside Iraq, where it says Turkish troops were part of an international mission to train and equip Iraqi forces to fight Daesh. Turkiye said it worked to avoid civilian casualties through its coordination with Iraqi authorities.

A report published in August by a coalition of NGOs, End Cross-Border Bombing, said at least 98 civilians were killed between 2015 and 2021. The International Crisis Group, which gave a similar civilian death toll, said 1,180 PKK militants were killed between 2015 and 2023.

According to an official with Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, the conflict has also emptied at least 800 villages since 2015, when a ceasefire between Turkiye and the PKK broke down, driving thousands of people from their homes.

Beyond the humanitarian impact, Turkiye’s incursion risks widening the conflict by giving carte blanche to regional rival Iran to step up intelligence operations inside Iraq and take its own military action, Kurdish officials say.

Tehran has already fired missiles at bases of Kurdish groups it accuses of involvement in protests against its restrictions on women, displacing hundreds of Iranian Kurds and killing some.

Pro-Iranian militias in Iraq also have a pretext to respond to Turkiye’s presence, analysts say, raising the prospect of escalation between Turkish troops and groups besides the PKK.

Hamdi Malik, a specialist on Iraqi Shiite militias at the Washington Institute, said pro-Iranian groups such as Liwa Ahrar Al-Iraq (Free People of Iraq Brigade) and Ahrar Sinjar (Free People of Sinjar) rebranded themselves last year as the resistance against the Turkish presence.

According to a Washington Institute report, attacks on Turkish military facilities in Iraq increased from an average of 1.5 strikes per month at the start of 2022 to seven in April. If the groups, which are deeply hostile to Washington, step up operations that would also undermine the influence of the United States and its 2,000 troops in Iraq, said Mustafa Gurbuz, a nonresident fellow at the Arab Center Washington.

“Turkiye is underestimating the strength of opposition and the fact that these facilities will become targets in the future and more so as hostilities increase,” said Sajad Jiyad, Baghdad-based analyst for The Century Foundation, a US think tank.

Northern Iraq’s fragmented politics mean that neither the federal government in Baghdad nor the KRG regional authority are strong enough to challenge Turkiye’s presence — or to meet Ankara’s goal of containing the PKK themselves.

The Baghdad government has complained about Ankara’s incursions but has little authority in the mainly Kurdish north, while the region’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party does not have the firepower to challenge the PKK, despite seeing it as a potent and populist rival.

The KDP has historically cooperated with Turkiye but has limited influence over a neighbor which wields far greater military and economic clout.

“We ask all foreign military groups — including the PKK — to not drag the Kurdistan Region into any kind of conflicts or tensions,” KRG spokesman Jotiar Adil said.

“The PKK are the main reason that pushed Turkiye to enter our territories in the Kurdistan Region. Therefore, we think the PKK should leave,” he said. “We are not a side in this long-standing conflict and we have no plans to be on any side.”

Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said the conflict between Turkiye and the PKK was a matter of concern, but less pressing than the threat from Daesh.

Hariam Mahmoud, a leading figure in the Kurdistan Liberation Movement, a civilian opposition group in Iraq influenced by the ideas of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, said no matter how much Turkiye squeezes them they will continue to resist.

“In our opinion, this is an occupation and fighting resistance is a legitimate right,” said Mahmoud, who lives in Garmiyan district south of Sulaimaniya.

Civilians, meanwhile, continue to pay the price. Ramzan Ali, 72, was irrigating his field in Hirure a few km from Sararo in 2021, when he heard a huge blast. The next thing he remembers is being on the ground covered in blood.

He said a Turkish shell had crashed into his property — a regular occurrence when Turkish troops respond to PKK attacks with artillery.


Algeria’s Tebboune to visit Russia in May: Presidency

Algeria’s Tebboune to visit Russia in May: Presidency
Updated 31 January 2023

Algeria’s Tebboune to visit Russia in May: Presidency

Algeria’s Tebboune to visit Russia in May: Presidency
  • Tebboune and Putin discussed "bilateral relations between the two countries, especially energy cooperation", the Algerian presidency said
  • Algeria is a major buyer of Russian arms

ALGIERS: Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune plans to visit Russia in May, his office said Tuesday after he spoke on the phone with his counterpart in Moscow, Vladimir Putin.
Algeria has had warm ties with Moscow for decades, but Africa’s biggest gas exporter has also become crucial for Europe’s energy supplies in the fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Tebboune and Putin discussed “bilateral relations between the two countries, especially energy cooperation,” the Algerian presidency said in a statement.
Tebboune is also set to pay a state visit to former colonial ruler France in May, but officials have not specified which country he will visit first.
Algeria, which pumps gas directly to Spain and Italy via undersea pipelines, has in recent months hosted a string of top European officials — including French President Emmanuel Macron in August — seeking to find alternatives to Russian energy supplies.
Algeria is a major buyer of Russian arms, and in 2021 bilateral trade was worth three billion dollars, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The North African country is in a decades-long struggle with its regional rival Morocco, particularly over the disputed Western Sahara territory, and cut off all ties with its neighbor in 2021 over alleged “hostile acts,” which Rabat has denied.
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Russia has a direct influence over the Western Sahara file.


EU envoys return to Aden in support of Yemeni government’s military unity and peace efforts

EU envoys return to Aden in support of Yemeni government’s military unity and peace efforts
Updated 31 January 2023

EU envoys return to Aden in support of Yemeni government’s military unity and peace efforts

EU envoys return to Aden in support of Yemeni government’s military unity and peace efforts
  • The delegation, led by Gabriel Munuera Vinals, held talks on Tuesday with Rashad Al-Alimi, head of the Presidential Leadership Council
  • Meanwhile, three Al-Qaeda operatives reportedly were killed on Monday in a suspected US drone strike on their car in the central province of Marib

AL-MUKALLA: A group of EU envoys to Yemen have returned to the southern port city of Aden, the country’s temporary capital, in a show of support for the internationally recognized government and its efforts to unite the nation’s fighting forces, stabilize the economy, and facilitate a peace agreement to end the war, Yemeni officials said.

The delegation, led by Gabriel Munuera Vinals, held talks on Tuesday with Rashad Al-Alimi, head of the Presidential Leadership Council, during which they reportedly discussed ways to promote peace, the government’s economic policies to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, and the council’s efforts to unify the military and security forces and other armed groups under its command.

During a separate meeting with Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Mohsen Al-Daeri, the ambassadors praised the government’s commitment to the peace process and its efforts to unite the nation’s forces. They also discussed with Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak efforts to restore the UN-brokered truce.

A Yemeni government official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Arab News that the envoys visited Aden to show their support for the government but no new proposals for ending the conflict were discussed.

“They (the EU envoys) have nothing fresh to bring about peace, but rather (came) to reaffirm the international community’s support for the (Presidential Leadership) Council and the government after returning to Aden,” he said.

The UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, is expected to visit Aden next week, the official added.

The latest visit to Aden by EU ambassadors follows one in early December during which they similarly voiced support for the Yemeni government, while international mediators traveled between Sanaa, Aden and other cities in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the warring factions to revive the UN-brokered truce that expired in October.

Meanwhile, three Al-Qaeda operatives were killed on Monday in a suspected US drone strike on the car in which they were traveling in the central province of Marib, according to local media reports.

They were in the remote Al-Samada area of Wadi Abeda region of Marib when a missile from the drone hit their vehicle, Al-Masdar Online reported. “The strike was precise and the car’s occupants were killed instantly,” it said.

Other local media outlets said Abu Hassan Al-Hadrami, an Al-Qaeda bomb maker who escaped a previous drone attack in the same area near Marib in December, was among the dead.

Elisabeth Kendall, a terrorism expert and mistress of Girton College at the University of Cambridge, told Arab News that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has not confirmed the death of Al-Hadrami, or any other members recently killed.

“Neither AQAP’s official channels nor its main fan channels have confirmed the death of any operative by this name,” she said. “However, the group’s announcement of martyrs does tend to lag behind real-time events. AQAP has not announced any new martyrs since Jan. 7.”

The number of US drone strikes targeting Al-Qaeda militants across Yemen has fallen significantly over the past six years, as Yemeni military and security forces have steadily expelled extremists from their main urban strongholds in Abyan, Aden, Shabwa, Hadramout and Lahji. Most recently they were pushed out of longstanding hiding places in Abyan and Shabwa’s vast and rugged mountains and valleys.


Biden, King Abdullah to meet at White House on Thursday

Jordan’s King Abdullah II meets with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the US Capitol building in Washington. (Reuters)
Jordan’s King Abdullah II meets with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the US Capitol building in Washington. (Reuters)
Updated 31 January 2023

Biden, King Abdullah to meet at White House on Thursday

Jordan’s King Abdullah II meets with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the US Capitol building in Washington. (Reuters)
  • King Abdullah is in Washington and met with US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the Capitol on Tuesday

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden will receive and hold talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah at the White House on Thursday, the Jordanian embassy in Washington said on Tuesday.

The king is in Washington and met with US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the Capitol earlier on Tuesday.

“Talks will cover means to bolster the strategic partnership and ties of friendship between Jordan and the US through expanding cooperation across various sectors,” Jordan’s royal court said.

Discussions will also include regional and international developments, especially those connected to the Palestinian cause and the US role in this regard, and the consequences of the Ukraine crisis.


Jordan workshop to target employment for Syrian refugees

Jordan workshop to target employment for Syrian refugees
Updated 31 January 2023

Jordan workshop to target employment for Syrian refugees

Jordan workshop to target employment for Syrian refugees
  • Scheme focuses on improving infrastructure through labor-intensive methods
  • About 1,000 short-term jobs to be opened across 31 municipalities

AMMAN: The Ministry of Local Administration and the International Labor Organization held a workshop to introduce the sixth phase of Employment through Labor Intensive Infrastructure in Jordan project targeting Syrian refugees.
The project is funded by the German Development Bank, reported Jordan’s News Agency on Tuesday.
It focuses on improving infrastructure through labor-intensive methods that benefit communities in the long term, such as road and school maintenance, soil improvement and water conservation activities in farms and environmental cleaning services.
The project’s sixth phase is expected to provide 1,000 short-term jobs in 31 northern and central municipalities for Jordanians and Syrian refugees, designating 30 percent of employment to women and 5 percent for disabled people through funding worth €7 million ($7.6m) provided for the municipalities.
Being implemented in cooperation with the ministries of Local Administration and Agriculture, the project includes maintenance of municipalities, afforestation and training sessions on professions that qualify participants for the labor market.
The project’s infrastructure supervisor engineer, Anas Bakhit, briefed participants on the goals, phases, proposals and mechanisms of choosing employees.
The employment scheme started in 2016 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis in cooperation with several Jordanian ministries, and will end in 2024.