Iraqi PM Announces Major Offensive Against al-Qaida in Violence-Wracked Mosul
Mosul, 396 km north of Baghdad, is Iraq’s 2nd largest city, a center for the tourist resorts of northern Iraq, and the north’s major center for trade, industry and communications, with approximately 570,000 inhabitants. Situated in the northwestern part of the country, on the west bank of Tigris, and close to the ruined Assyrian city of Nineveh.
Mosul is called Um Al-Rabi’ain (The City of Two Springs), because autumn and spring are very much alike there. It is also named Al-Faiha (The Paradise), Al-Khadhra (The Green), and Al-Hadba (The Humped), and sometimes described as the Pearl of the North.
This city has been continuously inhabited since Assyrian times. Long before Islam, a number of Arab tribes had settled in it, and in later times it played a leading role in the Arab wars of conquest and became a city of great importance. It was an important trade center in the Abbasid era, because of its strategic position on the caravan route between India, Persia and the Mediterranean. It’s chief export was cotton, and today’s word muslin is derived from the name of the city.
Mosul needs to be wandered about in. It is rich in old historical places and ancient buildings: mosques, castles, churches, monasteries, schools, most of which abound in architectural features and decorative works of significance. The town center is dominated by a maze of streets and attractive 19th century houses. There are old houses here of beauty. The markets are particularly interesting not simply for themselves alone but for the mixture of types who jostle there: Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians & Turkomans.
The Mosul Museum contains many interesting finds from the ancient sites of Nineveh and Nimrud. The Mosul House is a beautiful, old-style building, constructed around a central courtyard and with an impressive facade of Mosul marble. It contains displays of Mosul life depicted in tableau form.
Churches and Monasteries of Mosul, Iraq
Mosul historically has had the highest proportion of Christians of all the Iraqi cities, and contains several interesting old churches, some of which originally date back to the early centuries of Christianity. Its ancient churches are often hidden and their entrances in thick walls are not easy to find. Some of them have suffered from overmuch restoration.
The oldest church Shamoun Al-Safa (St. Peter), dates from the 13th century and has a most devious approach. It also has a deep underground courtyard and a cemetery between high walls containing some ornate tombstones of Moslawi merchants. The Syrian Orthodox Church- Mar Toma (St. Thomas)- is another one with a deceptive. It stands solidly but almost undetectable behind enormously thick walls and is lavishly, even gaudily, decorated.
(From description prior to war) Inside dozens of bulbs produce a blaze of electric light. The altar-cross the altar-steps are nearly as bright as a film-set. There are painted in Arabic, an old Bible in Syriac on a lectern and a lime-green with dark blue borders. And, on one wall, a small illuminated and lass-fronted pigeon-hole in which are displayed the relics of St. Thomas above your head complicated chandeliers dazzle the eye. Luckily, the church equipped with electric fans and modern heaters. Mosul’s summers are hot and the winter evenings bitterly cold.
The Church of St. Peter (Shamoun Al-Safa)
The oldest Chaldean church in Mosul, named after Shamoun Al-Safa or St. Peter. Previously, it had the name of the two Apostles, Peter and Paul. It was fouded in the 9th century, and it is considered a very important church due to its archeological value. It lies 5 m below street level. The church includes an epitaph of Shammas Raphael Mazagi who established a Chaldean printing press and a Patriarchal seminary next door of this church; and after the latter has been transferred to Baghdad in 1960, the building was inhabited by the nuns of the Sacred Hearts.
Church of St. Thomas
One of the oldest historical churches, named after St. Thomas the Apostle who preached the Gospel in the East, including India. The exact time of its foundation is unknown, but it can be assumed that it dates prior to 770 AD, since reference tell that Al-Mahdi, the Abbasid Caliph, listened to a grievance concerning this church on his trip to Mosul.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have staged many operations against insurgents north of Baghdad where levels of violence remain high even as they drop elsewhere in the country.
The announcement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came after warnings by the U.S. military that Mosul was the last major city where al-Qaida maintains a strong presence after largely being driven from Baghdad and other major population centers.
“Today, our troops started moving toward Mosul … and the fight there will be decisive,” al-Maliki said during an address in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
He did not say how many troops were being sent or provide more details in his wide-ranging speech, an apparent attempt to show his beleaguered administration was assuming control of the situation in Mosul with the U.S. military in the background.
“Now we have a real army. The days when the militants could do anything in front of our armed forces are gone,” al-Maliki said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf later told The Associated Press that 3,000 police were being sent as reinforcements for the 16,000 policemen already in Mosul to combat insurgents. But he gave no date for the start of the operation due to security concerns.
He also said additional soldiers would be sent to the area but provided no specifics.
Residents and security officials reported no immediate sign of stepped up security.
The recent violence in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, began Wednesday when an abandoned apartment building believed to be used as a bomb-making factory exploded after the Iraqi army arrived to investigate tips about a weapons cache.
At least 34 people were killed and 224 wounded when the blast tore through surrounding houses in the Zanjili neighborhood, a poverty-ridden district on the west bank of the Tigris River.
A suicide bomber then killed a police chief and two other officers Thursday as they toured the devastation from the previous day. Residents with insurgent sympathies taunted the chief moments before the attack.
Al-Maliki traveled to Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, a day after a roadside bomb targeted a senior aide of Iraq’s Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the city.
The aide, Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalai, escaped with a wound to the arm, but two of his bodyguards were killed and two were wounded, according to local police. Al-Maliki met with the white-turbaned cleric, who wore a bandage on his right forearm.
There have been several assassination attempts against al-Sistani’s followers in recent months as internal Shiite rivalries increased in the oil-rich southern Iraq, which also is home to some of the majority sect’s most sacred shrines.
Al-Qaida and its supporters would find themselves without a major base of operations if ousted from Mosul, which occupies transport crossroads between Baghdad, Syria and other points. But a drawn-out fight could serve to rally insurgents and expose potential security weaknesses where U.S. troops are thin and Iraqi forces must take a front-line role.
Al-Qaida first started to lose its footholds in the western Anbar province after Sunni tribes turned against them and joined the U.S.-led fight. The military successes then began to pile up in Baghdad and other central regions — forcing many insurgents to seek new havens in the north.
“Mosul will continue to be a center of influence for, center of gravity for, al-Qaida,” said U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith earlier this week, calling it a hub for both insurgent financing and foreign fighters.
The U.S. military also said Friday that American and Iraqi troops had cleared a roadside bomb-infested route between Baqouba and Khan Bani Saad, a strategic village on the northern outskirts of Baghdad.
Thirty roadside bombs were removed from the road and surrounding areas along with 12 booby-trapped houses, 11 car bombs and six weapons caches, the military said in a statement.
The troops also killed an estimated 41 suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militants, although the military stressed the exact number could not be confirmed because many were killed in aerial bombardments and their bodies were removed before ground forces arrived.
Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Hamid Ahmed contributed to this report.