Almost everyone living in Mosul is opposed to air strikes by the Iraqi air force. They are random and bring no real results, they say. However air strikes by the US government are a different thing altogether. Some support the idea, others are against it.
Three Mosul locals – Ahmed, Jalal and Abdullah – are good friends. However at the moment Facebook is the only way they can meet. The Sunni Muslim extremists from the Islamic State, or IS, group have forced them to separate. Ahmed has stayed in Mosul and Jalal, an Iraqi Kurd, took his family to the relative safety of the nearby semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Abdullah left Mosul recently too, when he heard reports that 30 of his relatives, Shiite Muslim by sect and Shabak by ethnicity, had been kidnapped.
The three friends all hold different opinions about US President Barack Obama’s decision to launch air strikes against the IS group. Their arguments make a good snapshot of the kinds of conversations going on in Mosul at the moment.
All the points where citizens used to be able to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan have closed now that the IS group is attacking the Kurdish, Ahmed says, and Mosul is more like a big prison for the around 1 million who still live there.
His main concern, which is shared by many ordinary people in Mosul, is that US strikes will help the Iraqi army and the Iraqi Kurdish military return to Mosul. If they do, they will take revenge on the people of Mosul because they welcomed the IS group at first, he says.
Many people in Mosul also believe that with the air strikes, the borders of the Sunni Muslim areas in Iraq are being redrawn.
His Iraqi Kurdish friend, Jalal, has a different opinion. Jalal had been hoping that the Iraqi Kurdish forces, also known as the Peshmerga, would drive the IS fighters out of his city. He was very disappointed when instead it was the Peshmerga who were driven back.
For this reason he supports the US air strikes – they came at the right time, he says, and they’ve raised the Peshmerga’s morale and allowed them to start winning in their fight against the IS group.
Jalal supports the air strikes as long as they don’t hurt civilians. “Unlike the Iraqi air force raids which were random and chaotic,” he notes. “Rather than doing any damage to the terrorist targets, they brought death to local people and damage to vital institutions in Mosul,” he complains. “The only time that Iraqi plans managed to hit a target directly it was the juvenile detention centre west of Mosul. The irony is that around 50 civilians were killed and only 20 extremists.”
Abdullah, a member of the Shabak minority, believes it is right to retaliate against the IS group, which has killed so many of his people and displaced thousands after confiscating their property. He is with the group that supports military action against the IS group, whom he describes as “criminals” – this group includes Christians, Yazidis and any Sunni Muslims that the IS group wants to prosecute or kill.
Many people from Mosul still retain some hope of being able to return to their homes and friends in the city – but they know this dream would never come true without the use of force against the IS fighters.
The IS group in Mosul hasn’t issued any official statements about the air strikes, although by all accounts, they have lost at least 25 fighters since the strikes began. However the group’s propaganda does seem to be trying to portray the US strikes as a “new crusade against Islam” in order to gain the sympathy of local Sunni Muslims – and especially the Sunni Muslims in local militias who fought to get the US troops out of Iraq and who would not welcome them back in.
Many of Mosul’s people also wonder if they, as Sunni Muslims, are the intended target of the air strikes and whether it is yet another plot against their sect.
One former traffic policeman, Nabil Jassim, told his friends that he feels sad. “The world doesn’t seem to care about the civilians in Mosul who are being shelled randomly and also persecuted by radical militants. Powerful countries are only defending the rights of certain people and we have realized that nobody can save us from this desperate situation.”