An Uneasy Peace in Mosul

  • Share
  • Read Later
At the Jumhuriya Hospital in Mosul, the victims trickled in in taxis, in private cars, in pickups, sometimes in ambulances. The story at the hospital was that American forces had fired into a crowd near the government building in the center of town. A U.S. spokesman calls the building a "sanctuary" where different groups can come and plan Iraq's future government. But the 250 Marines barricaded there have come under fire twice in the last two days, and in both cases returned deadly fire. The victims, Iraqis say, were civilians.

In the pouring rain outside the emergency room at the hospital, family members of those killed and injured in Wednesday's fight, as well as witnesses, stood watching the victims come in. One man entered limping, a friend holding him up. "The Americans were shooting recklessly, without any reason," said one man in the crowd. Ziad Mohammed said his brother had been hit from 1000 yards away while he was tending his shoe shop.

An old man was brought in in a wheelchair, blood caked on his face and a keffiyeh wrapped around his head. "He was on a bus, a civilian bus and the Americans shot him," said Yunis Yasin Suleyman.

War on Iraq's ongoing coverage of the U.S.-Iraq conflict

 After Saddam
Who will step in to fill the void?

 Tools of the Hunt
 On Assignment: The War

 Perry: Street Fighting in Karbala
 Robinson: Chaos at a Bridge
 Ware: Last Stand for Saddam

 When the Cheering Stops
Jubilation and chaos greet the fall of Saddam's regime, leaving Iraqis and Americans puzzling over how to rebuild the nation
 The Search for the Smoking Gun
 Counting the Casualties War in Iraq
It was hard to separate fact from fiction with these men, and some of their claims were outlandish — that Saddam Hussein had been in Mosul on April 9 and U.S. troops had knowingly let the dictator slip into Syria, that Americans were stealing historical artifacts, that the Americans were shooting at ambulances. But what is clear is that the two shooting incidents have put America on the defensive in its campaign to convince the people of Mosul that the Americans are on their side.

A white pickup rolled up, and the crowd got silent. A body wrapped in a yellow-and-orange blanket was lifted out of the bed. A nurse tried to dump out the puddles that had collected on the plastic mattress of a gurney and the body was lifted onto it. "He was 70 years old," said one of the crowd. "A martyr."

In all, according to doctors at the hospital, three were killed and ten wounded. The day before eight were killed and ten wounded in another clash at the square.

Dr. Ayad Jamin, an anesthesiologist, said medical supplies were so low only the worst cases got anesthesia when they were operated on. Less serious cases, like Ziad Mohammed's brother, were simply sent home.

"We just want the Americans to leave," Mohammed said. "We will sacrifice our blood and be martyrs. If they don't leave, everyone will be a bomb in the face of the Americans."

At the Mosul Airport, where the Americans are based, a spokesman denied that the Americans had fired indiscriminately. "When we received well aimed fire, we returned well aimed fire," said Capt. James Jarvis of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which came yesterday to back up the Special Forces already here. "As of right now, coalition forces are well in control of the city," he said, allowing that "we're in a period of instability."

One commander of the Kurdish peshmerga forces, was more frank. "In other cities there was fighting and Saddam's men were either killed or ran away," said Omed Mohammed. The Americans and Kurds entered the city without a fight last Friday, but now are finding that their victory was hollow. "Here there was no war so the fedayeen [Saddam, Uday's paramilitary fighting force] and other members of the security are still here. They just don't go to their offices, but hide in their homes." The famously brave peshmerga won't go to many Arab neighborhoods. "We're afraid," Mohammed said.

People in Mosul were the most pro-Saddam in Iraq — some say even more so than in Tikrit, his famously loyal hometown. Iraq's third-largest city, Mosul is also known as the biggest source of Iraqi army officers. Other cities in Iraq have graffiti like "Thank you Mr. Boush and Mr. Blear." Here, instead, there are Iraqi flags flying defiantly at mosques and vigilante checkpoints.

Dropping into Arab neighborhoods in the center reveals a deep hatred for America and affection for Saddam Hussein. There is also bitterness at the role of the Kurdish peshmerga in securing this majority Arab city. When a small convoy of American Humvees rolls by the residents silently watch. But when the convoy is out of sight the hate is palpable. "America and Britain promised to give us democracy and stability but they haven't done it," said one resident. "The Kurds came and destroyed our city," shouted another. Before long they are chanting "Down Down Bush! Long Live Saddam!"

Jarvis, the Marine spokesman, said residents of Mosul are coming to the airport to give tips on locations of fedayeen forces or other bad guys, and that Special Forces troops are conducting raids. He declined to say if those raids are bearing fruit. In the meantime, the Americans are trying to woo local leaders into working with them to form a provisional authority. One is Sheik Ibrahim Ata Allah al-Juburi, chief of the Juburi tribe which claims 10 million Iraqis "from Zakho to Basra," al-Jubiri said. He receives visitors in a tent erected in front of his house; the tent has ceiling fans, a telephone, a television with satellite receiver and a rectangular sectional couch measuring 100 feet. He kills three sheep a day to serve his many guests; tonight it was steaming platters of mutton, potatoes and rice.

He said he was the one to thank for the Americans entering Mosul without a fight. He, as a tribal chief, was one of the few Iraqis privileged enough to have a satellite dish. Watching al-Jazeera, he realized the war was not going as his government was saying. When he saw that U.S. forces were getting closer to Mosul, he started calling on government officials urging them to see the writing on the wall and agree to let the Americans in. Then he made contact with the Americans, traveling to meet one group just inside the border of the Kurdish-controlled areas between Duhok and Mosul. "We saved Mosul," he said.

Al-Juburi said the shooting incidents would not have long-term effects on the authority of American troops, as long as they kept their promises. "They are our friends and we expect them to give us democracy and security, to rebuild us and not destroy us." He said the Americans have come twice to his tent and he likes what he hears. "I have the idea that they have pure intentions, they just want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and establish security here."