Mosul: Behind the headlines

When you look at news reports of the fighting in Mosul, it is easy to overlook some of the basic facts about this huge city. Until recently, it had a population of almost 1.9 million people, and is the second largest city in Iraq after Baghdad. This makes it almost twice the size of Birmingham, England’s second largest city, and more than three times larger than Boston, in the USA.

Just imagine if those well-known cities were under occupation by a well-organised army of religious fundamentalists, and being attacked by forces from their own country helped by the US or a foreign power, as well as being bombed by British and American aircraft. Think how difficult it would be to deal with the potential for causing civilian casualties, or choosing which of the people you encounter is friend or foe. The maze of streets, the apartment blocks, rooftops, factories, industrial areas, and large airports. A major river, numerous bridges, shopping areas, markets, schools, hospitals, religious buildings, and administrative offices. Every wall or fence a potential hiding place. Every rooftop or balcony a spot for a sniper, and the ability for the enemy to hide in plain sight among crowds of distressed non-combatants.

For almost three years, this city has been a battleground between warring factions; international interventionists, and government troops. If you live in a city, or have ever lived in one, then you can only try to imagine what this must be like, as I do. Even allowing for the large numbers who have fled Mosul, it is estimated that more than 750,000 civilians remain there, possibly 1 million. That is still much larger than the population of Boston, and countless other western cities. By comparison, the largest city close to where I live is Norwich. This is the biggest city in the whole county, and covers a substantial area, including many suburbs, and an international airport. I cannot imagine fighting on the same scale happening there, yet the population is only 133,000.

Another fact overlooked, is that many of the residents remaining in Mosul actually welcomed the forces of Islamic State as liberators. They had previously suffered religious persecution from Iraqi government troops and sectarian militias, and were happy to have the intervention by the fundamentalists. Many joined them willingly, and some still fight alongside them to this day. Of course for many others, living under IS was unacceptable, as they were cruelly treated for many reasons, including religious ones. But as parts of the city are recaptured by the Iraqi army, their foreign allies, the police units, and the ‘Golden Brigade’, many civilians have been arrested, detained without trial as suspected members of IS. Many others now live in fear of reprisals by the army and militia units, as the old enmities between Sunni and Shia Muslims resurface in the ‘liberated’ areas of the city.

Naturally, I am no supporter of Islamic State. This horrible organisation has no place in the modern world. But we need to look behind the news reports, the five-minutes of combat footage, and the talking heads interviews, and to be aware that replacing one form of terror with another might well be what we are helping to achieve. Not only in Iraq, but in Syria too.



  1. Eddy Winko

    The West has a lot to answer for, I have still yet to work out what the desire is to interfere with what is ultimately a more ancient civilisation than our own. Of course money and natural resources can easily be cited, but I think the need for power is also mixed in with that. And as you say it is the people that always suffer, never the generals. It’s also worth noting that this is just one area of conflict in the world, I wonder why this is the one in the spotlight of the media?


    • beetleypete

      Good points, Eddy. Unfortunately, ‘Western’ civilisations have always sought to interfere with those ancient ones in foreign lands, starting with the Greeks and Romans, and continuing through the British and French empires and beyond. Sometimes it is to grab valuable resources, or to enforce a religion on ‘unbelievers’. But it mainly seems to just be about power and territtory, as well as control of trade.
      As to why the media is so involved with the wars in Iraq and Syria at the moment, I suggest it is not just because they are ‘flavour of the month’. They can gain access to these conflicts very easily. Reporters embedded with units of the US or Iraqi armies, and lots of film footage and satellite coverage is being made available too. In other parts of the world (like the Horn of Africa) reporting is not only far more dangerous, those wars have less impact on life in the west. Most times, you will see these ‘combat’ reports linked to refugees and terror attacks in Europe, in one way or another.
      Regards, Pete.


  2. ShelbyCourtland

    As an American, I hang my head in shame because this would not be happening if my government had not told vicious lies and started a war in Iraq.

    I see nothing but truth in this post and unfortunately, it looks as though it is only going to get worse. America’s lying, bungling has wreaked havoc in the Middle East. Sigh! We just never stop, nor do we ‘own’ the atrocities we commit. We just keep piling them on.


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