Friday

22nd Nov 2019

IS battle in Iraq is 'in name of the whole world'

  • Iraqi forces securing the aid distribution in a village some 35km from Mosul (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Shattered houses destroyed by air strikes, burnt-out cars once hiding improvised bombs, and burnt tyres along the road to mislead air force operations, describe the way leading to the village of Ibrahim Khalil, 35km south-east of Mosul in Iraq.

Signs of a war in which just a few days ago the Iraqi Army took over three nearby villages from the Islamic State militant group (IS) in a larger battle to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which was shockingly quickly overrun by the Islamist forces two years ago.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The UN children's agency starts early fight against reoccurence of polio with quick vaccination (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

The offensive has triggered concerns in the EU that Islamist fighters could come back to Europe.

"This is a threat we must be prepared to face," EU security commissioner Julian King said recently, while Europol chief Rob Wainwright warned that “further military losses, further military pressure on them in the region, indeed might lead to an increased reflex response by the group [IS] in Europe”.

The fighting has also led about 100,000 Iraqis to flee to Syria, according to the UN, in a move that could push thousands to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. An estimated 4.7 million Syrian refugees already live in the three countries, where the EU is trying to keep them from trying to continue to Europe.

The Iraqi Army, along with the Kurdish peshmerga fighters, are moving village by village to reach Mosul.

“They [IS] fought with snipers and car bombs. We had tanks, the operation lasted for only five hours,” Usama Al-Bayti, a young lieutenant from the 9th Armoured Division's 35th Brigade, says of the battle five days ago.

The military dropped pamphlets to tell the locals they are coming, and to go into hiding. Al-Bayti also said since some of the soldiers are from the village, they were able to contact family members who informed them about IS fighters’ positions.

But the army struggles to hold ground - when they moved further into other villages, IS popped up again in areas already considered liberated using extensive underground tunnels they have built.

Al-Bayti, a 23-year-old who is himself from Mosul, and his comrades are stuck for now.

“We shouldn’t be here, we should be advancing,” another officer shrugged.

(Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Locals waiting in line for aid in a recently liberated village from IS

A large crowd gathered on Monday (24 October) in Ibrahim Khalil from nearby villages, and people displaced by local fighting to receive aid from the International Organisation for Migration, and the World Food Programme.

The UN children's agency Unicef, accompanied by journalists, gave rapid polio vaccinations to some 1,200 families to prevent the disease from resurfacing.

“You can’t describe what we have suffered in two and half years under Daesh [the Arabic name used for IS]. It was like hell, in the full meaning of the word,” said Karim Turki Ismail, waiting in line for aid.

He is from the nearby village of El-Adla. He said when the fighting was over and emerged with white flags from hiding, they welcomed Iraqi troops with kisses and hugs.

“There was no work, nothing, life came to a halt. We were scared of everything, I can’t describe in words. There were constant killings, it is a simple thing for them. They beheaded 20-25 people in the village, because they worked for the army or the police,” he said, coming from a village of roughly 200 families.

Fear remains

But fear and a sense of revenge lingers over the advancement of the Iraqi and Kurdish troops.

IS fighters do not wear uniform and can easily mingle among civilians without being noticed.

A military commander on site argued that not everyone should get aid, saying “half of them are Daesh”. But the UN and the aid organisations cannot, and did not discriminate among people who asked for help.

Some Iraqis are suspicious of displaced people, fearing IS fighters might be hiding among them.

Al-Bayti admitted “sleeper cells” might be in the crowd. He said they captured over 10 IS fighters in the recent days, and intelligence officers are questioning them.

Iraqi troops often fly flags on their vehicles with the picture of Imam Ali, a revered Shia leader, and Al-Bayti, a Shia himself, admits there is a desire for revenge against IS, which follows a version of Sunni Islam.

“They kill Shias, Christians, everybody who is not with them,” he said.

“We will kill them [Daesh], there is no prison for them,” he added.

Asked whether Sunnis and Shias will ever be able to live together and reconcile, he said the two factions of Islam lived together in Iraq for a thousands years in peace.

“So we should be able to live together again,” he said with youthful optimism, saying Sunnis who have not risen up against Daesh before, now understand they were wrong.

“We are fighting in the name of the whole world here [against Daesh], and all the world must help us fight these killers.”

US expert warns EU on returning jihadists

Jihadists who left Europe to fight In Iraq and Syria will come back in greater numbers as Islamic State loses territory, a former US security chief has warned.

Feature

Colonisers speak - 60 years after Congo's independence

Belgium is in the midst of a nationwide reassessment of its colonial past. Under pressure from a younger, more activist, generation and a growing African diaspora, the former colonial power has taken some steps over the past year.

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament votes on new commission next week
  2. Berlusconi wants Europe to be a military global power
  3. Orban ordered to apologise over 'misleading' Soros survey
  4. EPP to decide on expelling Fidesz by end of January
  5. Rowdy anti-corruption protest in Malta
  6. Ambassador: Trump ordered Ukraine election meddling
  7. EU links Libyan government to human trafficking
  8. Greek PM on migration: 'Greece has reached its limits'

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. EPP congress pledges 'moderate' climate solution
  2. EPP wants to re-open accession talks with Balkans
  3. New EU financial instruments needed
  4. Binding measures to expand gender balance
  5. Watershed moment for rule of law in Hong Kong
  6. EU Africa envoy: Europe needs to look beyond migration
  7. New calls for Muscat to resign over journalist's murder
  8. Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us