Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Violence dropping in Mosul

Joel Wing of Musings on Iraq put together a great post on Mosul: 'The presence of so many insurgents in Mosul led to several Iraqi and U.S. offensives, with few results. Beginning in February 2008 U.S. forces began setting up combat outposts throughout the city, and erecting blast walls to try to control the movement of insurgents, as Iraqi forces created a Ninewa Operations Command after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised a “decisive battle” against Al Qaeda in the city in January. Deaths only decreased marginally, while the number of wounded increased dramatically over the next two months. They went from 3.34 deaths per day in February 2008 to 2.76 by April, while the number of wounded went from 2.75 to 7.60 during that same period. The problem was that rather than fighting, the militants instead chose to hide amongst the population, and adopted hit-and-run attacks.

Frustrated, in May Prime Minister Maliki announced Operation Lion’s Roar/Mother of Two Springs, but by August he admitted that it was a failure. Casualties actually increased in the two months after the offensive was launched going from 2.12 deaths per day, and 1.51 wounded in May to 3.58 deaths and 4.48 wounded by July. Following attacks on Christians in the city in October, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched Operation Mother of Two Springs II, and then Operation New Hope in February 2009. In October Operation Ninewa Wall was begun, which is almost exclusively Iraqi. Maliki also increasingly played up tensions with the Kurds, to try to rally the Sunni population of Mosul behind him to some success.

Casualties finally took a noticeable drop beginning in November 2008, but the security operations were not the cause. Rather it was the changing political situation in Mosul and Ninewa overall. In 2008 the al-Hadbaa party was formed to run in the 2009 provincial elections. The party was a coalition of Mosul elites, tribal leaders, and independent Kurds. Most important for the security situation, many Baathists and militants came to support the party as well. At the same time, the nationalist and Baathist factions of the insurgency were able to rest control of Mosul from Al Qaeda who had been losing ground in Iraq since the Anbar tribes turned on them beginning in 2005. These groups in turn, decided to try the political route after they boycotted the 2005 elections. The pending U.S. withdrawal was also a factor as many Sunni Arabs were afraid of greater Shiite domination after the Americans left, so they wanted to try to get positions in the government before that happened. Al-Hadbaa leaders were able to broker a cease-fire with the insurgents as a result, and the party ended up winning control of Ninewa in January 2009. Since then they have been able to forge a marriage of convenience with Maliki as both support a strong central government, and want the Kurdish peshmerga out of Mosul and Ninewa in general.

All of these factors led to a marked change in attacks in Mosul. Before armed clashes and shoot-outs were common in the city, along with all the bombings. Beginning in late 2008 through 2009 however, most attacks were drive by shootings, assassinations, house invasions, and still the bombs. The number of deaths went from 2.63 per day in the second half of 2008 to 1.97 in the first half of 2009, while the average number wounded dropped from 5.48 to 4.49 over the same period. From September to October the number of wounded also saw a noticeable drop.

Even with all of these changes Mosul remains a very dangerous place. Al-Hadbaa’s victory has increased tensions with the Kurdish Fraternal List that are boycotting the provincial council. That on-going ethnic divide provides a continued rationale for violence by some. In October 2009 Mosul still saw 66 attacks, 60 deaths, and 82 wounded. Until the problems between Arabs and Kurds are settled there, it will remain a largely war-torn city, unable to experience the slow return to normality that the rest of the country is beginning to experience.'

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