Magazine article The Spectator

We Will Not Surrender

Magazine article The Spectator

We Will Not Surrender

Article excerpt

Mosul, northern Iraq

THE ancient city of Mosul straddles the Tigris near the Turkish and Syrian borders, and just beneath the hills of Kurdistan. Churches and mosques jostle for space in its tiny biblical alleyways; Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Syrians, Turkmen, Jews and Yezidis all call it home. St Thomas the Apostle stopped here on the way to India; Agatha Christie lived here and was inspired to write Murder in Mesopotamia and They Came to Baghdad. And here is the Assyrian city of Nineveh, where the 6th-century Bc King Ashurbanipal reigned in glory -25,000 clay tablets from his great library were carted off to the British Museum by Sir Henry Layard in 1853 - and whose destruction the Old Testament prophet Nahum gleefully predicted: `There shall the fire devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off. For upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?'

It often seems as if Nahum has been reincarnated as a speechwriter in the US State Department, so succinctly do such sentiments encapsulate current American and British policy towards Iraq. For Mosul lies just inside the no-fly zone proclaimed by Washington and London after the Gulf war, but just outside the territory captured by the two main Iraqi Kurdish factions after the war. In one of the greatest unreported small wars in history, more than 40,000 sorties have been flown over Iraq since 1998. In Mosul itself, as in the southern no-fly zone, bombing raids are so regular that Iraqis react with insurmountable ennui when you ask them for some figures. `It's in the papers every single day,' they reply which is not much help if you are a bit behind in your cuttings from the Baghdad Bugle, They claim that half a dozen people or so are injured every week in these raids, but the Iraqi state is so obsessively secretive that it is impossible to interview any military sources to get statistics. This is all in spite of the fact that the Anglo-American mantra about `protecting the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south' corresponds to no ethnic geography whatever.

Tony Blair insists that no decisions have been taken on military action, but in reality military action over Iraq is a fact of daily life. Recent weeks have seen some particularly intensive raids, one of them with more than 100 aircraft. Yet it is precisely because this has been going on for a decade that people here view the prospect of a new war with a gritty resignation. Their sentiments range from whimsical Oriental fatalism to a modern steely nationalism. When I casually inquired about the identity of a man whose statue stands in central Baghdad, an Iraqi friend cheerfully replied, `Oh, that is Dr Sa'adoun, who was prime minister under King Faisal. He committed suicide rather than continue working for the British.' And when I asked one of the Chaldean Catholic bishops what he thought about a new war, he replied, `It will be an affront to justice and human rights. Never before in history has such a huge country like America been able to occupy a small one like Iraq so easily. Before, wars were equal. Now, the strong eat the weak.' As for the Eastern fatalism, a girl receptionist smiled and said, `We do not know what will happen. We are used to bombs falling on us. During the Gulf war, we did not run away. People went on to the roof to watch the bombs like fireworks. It will be the same next time. We are not afraid. As we say in Arabic, "It is enough if Allah is merciful."' All of these conversations were conducted in private.

People in Mosul find the daily sorties very stressful. `Every day the American planes come,' said a secretary in the town hall mournfully. `They are noisy. Sometimes the Iraqis shoot back. Two weeks ago, the Americans bombed the airport. These raids are very disturbing.' Whereas in the rest of the Iraq a relentless propaganda campaign is maintained against the sanctions regime which has besieged the country since it invaded Kuwait - the most draconian embargo the UN has ever imposed - in Mosul it is the bombing that attracts the greatest resentment. …

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