More than two weeks ago the Iraqi government launched Operation Za'eer al-Assad (Operation Lion's Roar), later changed in name to Umm al-Rabi’ain (The Mother of Two Springs), targeting alleged al-Qaeda forces in
Following the operation Niqash spoke with Hisham al-Hamadani, head of the Ninawa provincial council, regarding the assault, as well as preparations for provincial elections scheduled for October and rumors of Kurdish control over the provincial council.
Niqash: Has Mosul rid itself of al-Qaeda following the assault?
Al-Hamadani: We cannot say so, because al-Qaeda has deep roots and terrorist groups have infiltrated into the city. Cleaning it from al-Qaeda requires many phases; at this phase we were able to arrest many al-Qaeda members.
Niqash: Why did the name of the operation suddenly change from the lion’s roar to the mother of the two springs? Does this reflect the Iraqi leadership’s confusion in planning the campaign?
Al-Hamadani: The change in name does not reflect confusion. It occurred because no armed clashes took place and no blood was shed.
Niqash: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the military campaign a long time ago. Don’t you think that this gave al-Qaeda the chance to protect itself, escape and temporarily disappear?
Al-Hamadani: Yes, the government made a mistake by announcing the campaign. It was not supposed to disclose its intended plans in Mosul. This in itself was a grave mistake and gave al-Qaeda the time it has needed. The impact was felt when members of al-Qaeda disappeared and in orders given by their leaders through internet and other means not to resist, but to escape and to hide. Some hid in the city center while others escaped to other districts and neighborhoods.
Niqash: Is it possible for al-Qaeda to renew its operations especially as it was able to take necessary precautions?
Al-Hamadani: From a military and intelligence point of view, it is possible that al-Qaeda will carry out new operations and there could be future confrontations especially as there are still sleeper cells in Mosul considered dangerous. But we have taken this into account. Regarding tense areas considered strongholds of al-Qaeda, we were able to take over control, to put up checkpoints and there is now a heavy security presence.
Niqash: Are there any tangible results from the campaign for the citizens of Mosul?
Al-Hamadani: Yes, of course, there are positive, tangible and actual results on the ground. Most importantly is the decrease in curfew hours from 15 to 12 [6:00 am – 6:00 pm]. Most closed roads and streets have been re-opened, barricades have been lifted and 90% of the city is under control. Additionally, and more significantly, is the feeling of relief among citizens able to live with more freedom. People can feel a sense of security and stability after a time of almost complete lack of confidence in the government given the difficult circumstances in Mosul and the lack of a government response. The people of Mosul are starting to trust the government once more.
Niqash: How many al-Qaeda members have you detained? Were there non-Iraqi Arabs among them? What about the confiscated weapons?
Al-Hamadani: The number of detainees during the campaign has reached 1500 including Arab fighters of different nationalities from Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, 300 of whom were dangerous members, known and wanted by security forces. Among the detainees there were three al-Qaeda Emirs (loyalists). One hundred and fifty six detainees were recently released as no evidence of involvement in armed operations was found. Moreover, large quantities of weapons hidden in houses and buried under the ground were confiscated. Specialized forces detonated explosives and the light weapons were confiscated.
Niqash: Does this mean that the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) is suffering a crisis with the arrest of so many of its leaders?
Al-Hamadani: Certainly ISI is in a deep crisis, especially after being abandoned by the people. From 2004 to 2006 the group enjoyed a wide popular base of support, especially in Mosul. Now citizens are aware of the dangers after suffering terrorism and insults. They know that they should rid themselves of this dangerous poison.
Niqash: During the campaign a number of former Iraqi army officers were detained. Some interpreted their detention as Iranian retaliation for acts committed during the Iran-Iraq war. Is this true?
Al-Hamadani: The number is exaggerated and meant to create turmoil and confusion. I want to clarify that any citizen, regardless of whether he is a former officer or not, who violates the law shall be held accountable. There are some former patriotic officers, even Baathists, working now with the government. There are other members who refused to join the patriotic stream and this is why a handful of people from among these officers were detained after we obtained evidence of their involvement in terrorist acts. Arresting them was not because of any Iranian intervention. Iran does not have any role to play and there were no pilots arrested who participated in the Iraq-Iran war.
Niqash: Following the latest operation, will the government form awakening councils in Mosul?
Al-Hamadani: I would like first to say that we do not need awakening or support councils in Mosul. There was a meeting last year with Sheikh Fawwaz al-Jarba to form awakening councils in the city. At that time the situation was very bad and we wanted awakening members to be present inside the city center only. Al-Jarba wanted them to be present in all districts and neighborhoods, knowing that Mosul had nine safe districts with the exception of one and 21 safe neighborhoods with the exception of one. That is why we did not approve the creation of awakening councils. In the meanwhile, security forces have taken control of the situation.
Niqash: Some say that Kurdish parties, wanting to control the city, have exerted pressure to prevent the creation of awakening councils.
Al-Hamadani: Kurdish parties have nothing to do with this. Their interference was positive from the beginning and they were very helpful. Without them Mosul would have suffered a crisis. There was an earlier agreement, known to all, between former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and U.S troops stipulating a Kurdish contribution to protecting the city’s outskirts. We cannot ignore the sacrifices made by the Kurds in Mosul city, and the protection they provided the Mosul dam with the Peshmerga forces, without which the dam would have been targeted by terrorist.
Niqash: There are parties and parliamentarians in the city who demand an end to Kurdish control over the provincial council. [Kurdish parties control 31 out of 41 seats on the Ninawah provincial council]*
Al-Hamadan: Parliamentarians are wrong. There are no problems within the provincial council. Yes, there are certainly political problems in the city but the Kurds are not to be blamed. There is no dominance of a particular party over the others. There are many decisions taken by the provincial council. Here I would like to point out that when the 2005 elections took place we asked all Mosul tribes and families to participate but they refused. Consequently they lost their opportunity to be represented in the Council. On this occasion, I ask them to participate in the forthcoming elections to refute any accusations or objections.
Niqash: Are there special preparations underway for the elections?
Al-Hamadani: Preparations will start at the beginning of July 2008. There are many newly formed entities and parties registered at the Office of the High Commission for Elections in Mosul city. There will be broad participation, different from the first elections, especially since the provincial council has tended to favor certain blocks and not others. We hope that those who did not previously participate have learnt the lesson.
* Ninawa provincial council is formed of the following political parties and components: the Kurdistan Islamic Group (2 seats), the Tribal Alliance bloc (2 seats), Islamic Supreme Council (ISC) (5 seats), the Assyrian Democratic Movement (1 seat), the Kurdistan Alliance List composed of many components and has the highest number of seats (31 seats).
The Kurdistan Alliance list is formed of: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (10 seats), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (10 seats), Kurdistan Islamic Party (2 seats), the Iraqi Communist Party (1 seat), the Arab Socialist Movement (1 seat), the Assyrian Pariotic Party (1 seat), the Chaldean National Party (1 seat, independent members (5 seats).