This is the real political history of Aboud, a well-known Mosul local. In fact, if you live in Mosul, there are enough clues in this story that you will know who this person is. But we cannot give his real name for security reasons. There are also other reasons why we cannot give his name: Because there are many men like Aboud in Iraq today, the kinds of men who change their “strongly held” political allegiances, allegiances they say they will fight and die for, with changes in the wind. Perhaps that is harsh: They will change their allegiances as the situation does, to best suit them.
In Iraq, political ideology is mostly about power. Power equals money in Iraq – senior politicians not only earn a good wage themselves they get to distribute favours and ensure others earn good wages. That is why many Iraqi politicians – figures like the subject of this story, our own Aboud of Mosul – are perfectly prepared to change their opinions and allegiances on a whim and a regular basis, even if it means allying themselves with an extremist organisation.
After Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday, called for Iraqi youth to volunteer for the regime’s commando units in the 1990s, Aboud was one of the first to arrive at the Taji military camp. As a result of his recruitment he was featured on television, shown eating a wolf’s inner organs, jumping from the Sarafiya Bridge in Baghdad and parachuting into Mosul.
Aboud went from being a simple supporter of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to being a fully fledged member. Aboud used to roam the biggest markets in Mosul in his attempts to mobilize the local merchants to be ready for any possible attack by US forces. His neighbours say that Aboud was the first to build a dirt barrier at the entrance of his neighbourhood in preparation for war with the US. In fact a few weeks before the fall of Hussein’s regime, he appeared on television wearing all black and was addressed as “Lieutenant”.
As the first US army Hummer vehicle drove into Mosul on April 10, 2003, Aboud was seen heading north in the Sukkar neighbourhood, driving a municipal garbage truck he had absconded with and trying to affix a yellow band around his forehead as he went. The yellow band is a sign of Kurdish ethnicity and meant that as a US ally, Aboud would be safe. He was eventually photographed by Reuters standing next to the provincial border; Ninawa neighbours on Kurdistan. Aboud was standing next to politician Mishan al-Jabouri, who was the first politician to be hit by a shoe thrown in protest as an expression of rejection of the US occupation. The second shoe that was thrown came very close to Aboud’s face – but it didn’t wipe the smile off it.
It seems that the Guinness Book of World Records may have done Aboud an injustice – because the authors have ignored the record number of political flip-flops Aboud has performed over the years. The National Geographic Channel has violated his right to become immortal by neglecting to produce a documentary on him. And it is clear that Iraqi and other Arab television channels have ignored him because they are too busy competing with one another.
Back in Mosul, Aboud published the first weekly newspaper funded by US forces. It was named Baad Al Thagyeer – After The Change, in English – but he only ended up publishing two issues of it and distributing it to a small number of people. With support from a European non-governmental-organisation, he founded an Arabic-English radio station with the same name as his short lived newspaper. But its broadcasts could not be heard much beyond Mosul’s Dawasa neighbourhood and they were only heard for a month anyway.
Aboud also managed to publish a book, featuring a picture of himself, the author, on the cover in black and white. The book was called “Iraq After Saddam”.
When the armed resistance against the US military presence began, Aboud, who was now being described as a tribal leader and who had created a party called Iraqi For Ever as well as two charitable foundations, disappeared. He was gone but not forgotten. Aboud became the subject of gossip around Mosul’s cafes, his name a kind of entertainment for locals who liked to interfere in other people’s business.
Rumour has it that Aboud had fled to Qom, one of neighbouring Iran’s holiest cities. It was said that he got his first turban in 2005 and that he then chose southern Iraq as a devotional retreat. However as sectarian fighting increased in Iraq in 2006, Aboud resurfaced as militias mobilised in the country’s north. Many swore they saw Aboud checking the ID cards of people going past restaurants. Gossips also said that he beat a young man very badly because the young man couldn’t remember what sect he belonged to.
Back in Mosul, Aboud displayed all of his political allegiances openly. He was just about the only person in Ninawa who desperately wanted Ibrahim al-Jaafari to stay as Prime Minister. Then he danced a folk dance, the dabke, with a stranger on Dawasa Street when Nouri al-Maliki was elected as Prime Minister for a second time. He is also quite possibly the only man who wrote a letter to US President Barack Obama, asking him not to withdraw his troops from Iraq.
Aboud was so disappointed when the post office in the Nabi Sheet neighbourhood refused to accept such a letter. Young, enthusiastic men dragged Aboud all the way to Mosul’s Ibn Al Atheer Hall; this is where locals were celebrating the departure of US troops from Iraq.
Aboud’s dignity needed some polishing after this incident. So he began supporting some of the local people who had been displaced by sandstorms. Aboud became a regular guest on local satellite TV – in fact, archival footage shows him vowing to cut his index finger off rather than re-elect the governor of Ninawa, who, according to him, was sitting in air conditioned comfort while he and the poor were melting.
As a spokesperson for the oppressed, Aboud spent one full night in the area where anti-government demonstrations were usually held. He also spent three nights in Ahrara Square, in central Mosul, before his loyalties were purchased with a bottle of whiskey and some dollars by Mahdi al-Ghrawi, the head of the Ninawa Operations Command. After this Aboud became the Iraqi military’s ears and eyes among the demonstrators – that is, until he was caught by Ghanem al-Abed, the spokesperson for the protestors, relaying a stirring speech that was being given at the protests, through his Samsung Galaxy 3 mobile phone to the Iraqi army.
The protestors beat Aboud but they were kind to him. They broke some of his ribs and his right leg. They also took a piece of his left ear. But he survived and he was remorseful, wrapped in bandages, while in a local hospital.
At a press conference held near a falafel restaurant in central Mosul, Aboud then announced he was giving up advocacy work and that he was becoming one of the silent majority. In reality though, he actually created a number of Facebook pages and Twitter identities, using different nick names. On these pages he began attacking local officials, using insults and bad language. He also circulated lies and rumours. On his personal Facebook page though, Aboud maintained decorum: He posted religious verse, advice for daily life, pictures of pets and historic places and his personal photo showed him wrapped in white cloth and surrounded by pigeons near the Prophet’s Mosque.
After an absence of several months from public life, Aboud eventually nominated himself to run for office as part of the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s party during provincial elections. Sadly he only got three votes but this did nothing to halt his ambitions; Aboud happily told people that the road to leadership is a long one.
He ran again in Iraq’s general elections of 2014 on the same list. He also rented a house in Erbil [in the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan] as a precautionary measure before intensifying his public appearances on television and in social media. However all of his adventures and campaigning didn’t get him more than six votes; five were those cast by his family members and the other was his own.
Even before the result of the election was announced, Aboud was blaming the Sunni Muslim extremist group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, for his defeat. He told foreign media that Mosul was suffering under the jizya system, a system based on an ancient Islamic tax used by ISIS to extort money from everyone who could afford it in Mosul, from doctors to contractors and even private schools. He also said that he had no doubt whatsoever that there was a relationship between ISIS and the local government of Ninawa.
Then on June 15, 2014, just a few days after ISIS took over the northern city, Aboud appeared in a video clip circulating on Facebook. He held two fingers up in a victory salute and was waving jubilantly in a local square as military vehicles carrying ISIS’ black flags went by.
He was interviewed by a local satellite TV channel and during the call, he confirmed that security conditions in the city were stable thanks to those whom he described as “revolutionaries”. He also joked that stocks of the dishdasha, a traditional long white robe worn by local men, were very low in Mosul because al-Ghrawi and all the other army officials had swapped their uniforms for civilian clothing and fled the city.
Aboud giggled at his own joke. Then he said sternly: “Our popular revolution will only end when we have swept al-Maliki and his cronies from Baghdad and when we have raised the flag of the Islamic State from the roofs of Baghdad”. His voice faded and he became emotional. Aboud began to cry and on television, he called upon God to promise paradise for those who had returned Ninawa to its own people after years of occupation.