By Track Persia
June 15, 2020
These days mark the anniversary of the liberation of Iraq’s Mosul city from the extremist group Islamic State (IS). Three years after the battle to liberate Mosul, much remains in ruins. The battle for Mosul which lasted almost nine months resulted in the destruction of the entire city which thousands of its civilians were killed and more than 900,000 others were displaced. Almost 8 million tonnes of rubble was left where historical buildings and architectural sites once stood alongside homes, schools and businesses.
Today, the parties involved in the liberation of the city and those acted behind the scene during the liberation campaign are struggling to dominate the city, among them, are Iran-allied militias and political factions.
Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, is also one of the richest cities in the region, given its natural resources and geographic location. For this reason, it attracts Tehran which looks for dominating the route to the Mediterranean, a strategic ambition for Tehran since the success of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah.
Iran has firmly established dominance over Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime at the hand of the US and its allies in 2003, in particular, Iraq’s southern and Mid-Euphrates Shiite provinces. After Iran-backed militias had helped drive IS militants in 2017 from Mosul and other Sunni areas in north and west of the country, Tehran has been working to control Nineveh which has also minority groups such Kurds, Christians, Shiite Turkumans and Yazidis. After the liberation of the Nineveh province, Iran-allied militias have succeeded in installing members of local government directly linked to them and developed a network of allies inside the local authorities, using money, political backing and even force to dominate every aspect of political and economic life in the province.
Tehran has also used Iraqi Sunni allies from outside Mosul to increase its leverage and dominance in the province. Central to such efforts were two Sunni politicians, Khamis al-Khanjar, a businessman and politicians from Anbar, and Ahmad al-Jabouri, aka Abu Mazen, a former governor of Salahuddin province and currently a parliamentarian. Both men had been outspoken opponents of Iran-backed militias and later they sided with Iran and its allies which are accused of human rights abuses against their fellow Sunni Arabs during the liberation campaign.
Khanjar and Abu Mazen succeeded in their endeavours to influence the selection of Nineveh’s governor in May 2019 with the aim to assign a governor favoured by Iran and its allies and they found Mansour al-Mareid. They convinced the 39 councillors within the local government that were tasked with electing a new governor to abandon their favoured candidate who had been critical of Iran and vote instead to al-Mareid.
Khanjar and Abu Mazen promised the councillors posts or payments of up to $300,000 apiece. As a consequence, Mareid was elected with majority 28 of the of 39 council members. Mareid denied that he had knowledge of the bribes given to the councillors voted for him by Khanjar and Abu Mazen. However, he acknowledged that he was not surprised if they had been bribed by Iran and its allies because, in his views, Iran was approving every detail in the country.
However, the influence of Tehran in the province seems to have been declining following the assassination of Iran’s Qods chief General Qassem Soleimani by a US drone strike near Baghdad Airport back on 2 January, particularly with the growing sentiments against Tehran and its stark interference in the Iraqi affairs. This is reflected in the country-wide protests which witnessed repeated attacks on Iranian interests in the country including the incidents of setting on fire its consulates in Karbala and Najaf and the headquarters of Iran-backed militias in southern provinces by the protesters.
Iranian influence in Iraq has also been affected by the sanctions imposed by the US Treasury in December on Iran-allied influential political figures in Iraq, including Khanjar and Abu Mazen who the US accused of accommodating Iran-backed proxies and using bribing with millions of dollars in payments to Iraqi politicians in order to secure their support. As a result of these sanctions, the assets of Khanjar and Abu Mazen were frozen. Predictably, both men were forced to change position by withdrawing their support to Mareid to give it to Najam al-Jabouri, a former military command leader. Jabouri replaced Mareid as the new governor of Nineveh on November 23 with 39 votes which had also dismissed Mareid.
The appointment of Jabouri as the new governor has relatively decreased the influence of Iran and its allies in the province, especially because of the assassination of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, most powerful Iran’s man in Iraq, who was killed by the US drone strike that also killed Soleimani. Muhandis was deputy chief of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella of Shiite militias which are mostly dominated by Tehran.
Jabouri is seen by some as weak and cautious of Iran-allied militias and their influence in the province, given their power on the ground. These militias are still controlling the construction and other business contracts. As a consequence, the city has not recovered despite two changes of governors, given the extent of corruption within the local government. Nonetheless, some residents have praised Jabouri for his handling of the Coronavirus crisis, in particular, his success in avoiding a mass outbreak of the virus by imposing strict lockdown in the province.
The reconstruction plans including new emergency hospital and schools in the province have been suspended and Mosul still lies largely in ruins and many of its residents have become victims of the war. Some of them live in misery after they have become disabled by the war and unable to work. Others have returned to their city to find their homes destroyed by bombs and were bulldozed over thousands of bodies, many of them were of their relatives or of IS militants.
Over the past few months, concerns have been growing among Mosul residents over the spread of COVID-19, especially because of lack of protective equipment including masks and gloves. During his visit to Mosul on Wednesday to mark six years since the IS militants seized the city, the interim Prime Minister Mustafa Al- Kadhimi vowed that he would not allow a repeat of what had happened to the city which became the extremist group’s de facto capital between 2014 and 2017 before being ousted from the city by the international backed military campaign.
Mr Al Kadhimi blamed the neglect of the city after its liberation on the previous Iraqi government. “We will not allow the repetition of what happened, and we carry out military operations to support security and stability in Mosul and to hunt down the remaining terror cells,” Mr Al Kadhimi said.
The Prime Minister seemed he wanted to send a strong message to the world that Nineveh province, just like the rest of Iraq, must be rebuilt, especially after the suffering it endured under IS rule. However, building the city seems unlikely without first prosecuting former Primer Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an Iran-allied, whose sectarian policies and corrupt administration are seen the main factor of falling the province to IS and eliminating the destructive policy of Iran in the province and in entire Iraq.