Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Mosul’

Images of Iraq

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th July, 2020

Baghdad Al Rasheed StreetWatching the superb and at times harrowing five-part BBC documentary series Once upon a Time in Iraq this week has aroused many memories and emotions in me, as the country has repeatedly been a feature of my life for the past half century. Iraq was the first Arab country I visited, in the late summer of 1969, on my way back overland from the Vietnam War (as recounted in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes). I arrived on an overnight bus from Tehran, wandered through the collonades of Al Rasheed Street, smiled at the red London double decker buses and slept on the roof along with everyone else escaping the heat. By the time Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait, in 1990-1991, I was working at BBC World Service radio at Bush House and for weeks did night shifts, putting together packages for the various language services based on material sent in by correspondents in the field.

Baghdad Al Rasheed HotelI was inspired by Charles Kennedy’s principled stand against the Iraq War and took part in the million person march in London against Tony Blair’s decision to go with George W Bush into War in 2003, though I was actually in Casablanca at a Liberal International event when the bombing of Baghdad started in earnest. Young Moroccans in the street were angry about it, and so was I, watching it all unfurl on CNN. I didn’t get back to the country itself until ten years later, however, when I was invited to Baghdad for an Arab League event on Palestine. It was eerie sitting in one of the main rooms of what had been Saddam Hussein’s palace under a rather kitsch ceiling painting of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Like most Western journalists I was put up in the Al Rasheed Hotel in the Green Zone, a soulless modern edifice whose vast grounds featured a frustratingly empty swimming pool.

MosulLater I had the chance to travel in Iraqi Kurdistan, too, to savour the historic splendour of the old citadel of Erbil but also to visit the chamber of horrors that was the Red House, the Mukhabarat security service’s interrogation centre and prison in Sulaymaniyah, as well as the scene of Saddam’s chemical attack on Kurdish civilians in Halabja. There is graphic footage of the brutality of the Ba’athist regime in Once upon a Time in Iraq, but in many ways what happened after the Americans overthrew him turned out to be much worse, through sectarian civil war and then the rise and fall of first Al Qaeda in Iraq and subsequently Islamic State. Some of the testimonies in the documentary series are likely to stay in my mind for the rest of my life; so much suffering and sadness, but also remarkable bravery. At times there was a jolt of recognition as shots showed places I remembered, though many, like Al Rasheed Street, were comprehensively trashed in fighting. The major ISIS stronghold Mosul, which still contained significant elements of Ottoman heritage when they took over, was literally obliterated in the fight to crush them. Yet still peace and security are elusive in Iraq, no longer what it was or what it might have been.

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2016: Doomsday for ISIS?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th December, 2015

AmadiYesterday Iraqi government forces retook control of the city of Ramadi from ISIS/Daesh, though much of its infrastructure was trashed in the process. This was a welcome development which prompted the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, to declare that self-styled Islamic State will be crushed during 2016. Brave words, but I fear that he is being over-optimistic. The next target for the Iraqi army — with back-up from the United States and others in the anti-ISIS coalition — is the city of Mosul. That really would be a huge setback for Islamic State if it were to fall, not only because of its large size but also because of its key location in a region rich with oil. But retaking Mosul is unlikely to be easy.

ISISMoreover, there is another reason why Mr al-Abadi’s prediction is perhaps premature. Even if ISIS is eliminated in Iraq during the course of next year — and that is a big “if” — it is still well dug-in in Syria, where the HQ of its “caliphate”, Raqqa is located, and it is making progress elsewhere, notably in Libya and Pakistan. Like al-Qaeda, ISIS is a sort of franchise, though one with a clearer project in mind for the type of (to Western eyes dystopian) world it wants to see. Groups in other parts of Asia and Africa, including Boko Haram in Nigeria, which started independently have pledged a degree of allegiance or affiliation to IS. Furthermore, though some of the first wave of young jihadis have returned to their homelands, or been killed, fresh waves are being recruited, mainly through networks of friendship. That is why I believe that ISIS’s Doomsday will only come when its message has been successfully branded as toxic and un-Islamic and its perverse appeal is overwhelmed by something stronger and more positive.

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