Iraq: Should peacekeepers be sent to protect Mosul's residents?

Iraq: Should peacekeepers be sent to protect Mosul's residents?
Comment: Now that Fallujah has been retaken by Baghdad and reduced to a ghost town, questions are being raised about what the future looks like for Mosul and its people.
6 min read
01 Aug, 2016
The recent history is likely to repeat itself on a bloodier scale in Mosul [Anadolu]

Prior to the recapture of Falluja by the Iraqi government and allied militias in the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), I conducted research over a period of more than a year to gauge the opinions of Maslawis, as the people of Mosul are known, about the future of their city, their country and the sectarian hell that had been unleashed upon them. Now that Fallujah has been retaken by Baghdad and reduced to a rubble-strewn ghost town, the perspectives of the people of Mosul are even more important today than ever before, as it is their hometown that is next on Baghdad’s agenda.

The Maslawis I interviewed were either from within the city itself (using a variety of methods to extract the information safely), refugees in other countries such as Turkey, or internally displaced people in other areas of Iraq. Each of them either witnessed the rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS), or lived under their rule. 

Without exception everyone interviewed despised IS, and several even complained that many of the fighters they had come into contact with were not even Iraqi, further increasing the ire of the people against them.

That said, and although Maslawis were keen on ridding themselves of IS, they were fully aware of the sectarian orgy of violence inflicted upon the Sunni Arabs of Tikrit, Jurf al-Sakhr, Muqdadiya, Baiji, Ramadi, Samarra and countless other towns and cities around Iraq once they were “liberated” by the government.

It is entirely plausible that the people of Mosul are now acutely aware of what happened to their fellow countrymen in Fallujah and surrounding areas like Saqlawiya, where civilians were brutally tortured and many murdered by sectarian Shia militias loyal to Iran and allied to the government.

Many reports showed how civilians fleeing IS control seeking safety instead needed to seek safety from their own government. One report described how these captured civilians were forced to drink their own urine by sectarian militias and even sometimes the blood of one of their own, recently slaughtered by what can only be described as state-sponsored terrorists.

Many reports showed how civilians fleeing IS control seeking safety instead needed to seek safety from their own government

Although the government has stated it will bring the perpetrators to justice, a recent Human Rights Watch report suggested that the government was instead trying to cover it up, and their statements appeared to be for media consumption only.

What makes the above incredibly concerning for observers, and downright terrifying for those Sunni Iraqis facing the prospect of living through it, is that Fallujah is akin to a village when compared to Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest and most ancient cities with a population of millions. In essence, the people of Mosul feel stuck between the anvil of IS and the hammer of the government and the PMF.

The words often used by Maslawis I spoke to regarding their impending “liberation” were mathbaha, ibada, majzara and damar – which in English translates to slaughter, genocide, massacre and destruction respectively. 

This bleak situation was further compounded by the terror Maslawi women felt when considering what had happened to other Iraqi women around the country in terms of their sexual exploitation and enslavement. I was told by one woman, “We know what happened to many of those poor widows in Baghdad. [The Shia militias] have even set up brothels that have dozens of these widows…If the Shia militias come to Mosul, they’ll kill our men and sell us all into the sex trade”.

This horrifying scenario was concluded by the woman grimly telling me, “I’d rather die than be disgraced and humiliated for the rest of my life”.

Can the international community prevent genocide against the Sunnis?

Aside from the palpable fear felt by Maslawis at the prospect of jumping out of the frying pan of IS and into the fire of the sectarian government and militias, Iraqis from Mosul showed derision towards the international community’s apparent efforts to rescue them. As one man angrily told me about “idiots” in Western policy circles; “They first ‘liberated’ us from Saddam…then they ‘liberated’ us by giving us…the Green Zone [Iraqi government] dogs…and now they’re talking about ‘liberating’ us from Da’esh?” adding “What exactly is this liberation if they’re going to hand us over to psychopathic murderers [Shia militias] who will commit genocide against us?”.

This sense of extreme mistrust of the international community was common to people I spoke to from all over Iraq, not only Mosul

This sense of extreme mistrust of the international community was common to people I spoke to from all over Iraq, not only Mosul. Nevertheless, they still felt that, in the absence of the Iraqi government arming the Sunni Arabs and opening all ranks of the military and security services to them once again, the international community could yet play a role in preventing war crimes and human rights abuses against them. In reference to Turkish soldiers being in Bashiqa near Mosul, one man said; “The Turks are already nearby, they are a part of NATO, so why can’t they act as peacekeepers under a UN mission like they do in Lebanon and Africa?” later adding “We need international observers [to send] a clear message…that any sectarian killings will be treated as war crimes”.

Although unlikely to happen due to a lack of Western appetite to commit boots on the ground, an international observer force that carried the threat of international tribunals and punishment for war crimes would do much to alleviate concerns in Mosul and beyond. The people I spoke to even expressed support for the idea of a peacekeeping mission that included not only Turkey, but also Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

Although that is incredibly unlikely to happen, in light of the fact that Iran is already heavily involved in Iraq with General Qassem Soleimani appearing even at Fallujah, the presence of Sunni regional powers may give the sectarian militias, the Iraqi government and their Iranian benefactors pause for thought. However, and right now, the prospects of that happening are in the realms of idealism, and it seems that recent history is tragically due to repeat itself on a much larger, bloodier scale in Mosul.

Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. His research focuses on Middle Eastern security and counter-terrorism issues". Follow him on Twitter: @thewarjournal

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.