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Mosul too in grip of raging violence

January 24, 2007

MOSUL (Iraq): Two Iraqis went to a wedding in Mosul last week, but died there when gunmen opened fire on the party, killing them and wounding four others.

While Baghdad is the epicentre of violence in Iraq, with hundreds killed each week, there are signs violence is growing in cities like Mosul, 390 km north of Baghdad,.

Journalists trying to report on Mosul have seen more than a dozen of their colleagues killed and are being driven out by threats or fear of arrest by Iraqi or US forces.

Abu Aws, a 31-year-old car mechanic in Mosul, said he was forced to close his workshop because of bombings and killings.

“I started to repair cars at home just to feed my wife and my only child,” he said. “I’m sure life in the desert would better than living in Mosul with nothing but death and bombs.”

US commanders tend to paint a picture of relative peace beyond the vicinity of the capital.

The two men who died at the wedding of a policeman on Thursday were among 13 killed or found dead in Mosul that day.

Their deaths took to at least 70 the number of those killed violently in that week. The figures were reported to journalists by police and hospital sources – anonymous victims whose deaths are hardly even mentioned by most international media.

Also on Thursday, a suicide car bomber blew himself up near a police patrol, killing a bystander, and a policeman was killed by a bomb at a checkpoint. Nine unidentified bodies were found of people who had been shot, morgue officials said.

Five policemen died on Tuesday and three others were wounded in clashes between insurgents and security forces.

A UN report last week said local authorities in Mosul reported 40 civilians and police officers killed on average each week. “Violence in Mosul, although less frequent than that engulfing south and central Iraq, has intensified,” it said.

A city of around three million people, Mosul is home to ethnic Kurds and Shia and Sunni Arabs as well as some Turkmen and others, such as Christians.

Colonel Stephen Twitty, commander of US forces in Nineveh province which includes Mosul, put most of the violence in the city down to Sunni Arab insurgents and criminals.

“What you don’t see here is the sectarian violence that you see down in Baghdad,” he said, disputing the UN assessment that violence was increasing. “I think for the most part people believe that there is security in Mosul,” he said.

An Iraqi security official in Mosul, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said rising violence there was due partly to Sunni insurgents but he also spoke of a growing threat from militias nominally loyal to the Shia-and Kurdish-led authorities.

The UN report said 12 journalists were killed in Mosul last year. Another reporter was killed this month in the city along with a former driver for journalists in Mosul. An engineer at a radio station was killed by gunmen on Saturday.

Major-General Wathiq al-Hamdani, the city’s police chief, said insurgents targeted journalists to create a state of chaos, but he insisted violence was not rising significantly.

Jasim Mohammad Ali, a freelance reporter, said most journalists in Mosul had received threatening letters accusing them of deliberately under-reporting security force casualties.

“One morning I was leaving my house and I was shocked to see a leaflet thrown right on my doorstep, threatening me with death if I did not report the ‘real facts’ about losses among US and Iraqi forces in Mosul,” Jasim said.

He has moved his family and stopped working: “I can’t do my job. I feel I’m paralysed and might get killed any moment.”

Ali said he was shot in the leg a year ago by US forces while filming clashes. Like several other Iraqi journalists, he was arrested by US forces on suspicion of cooperating with insurgents and held for five months.

“Working as a journalist in Mosul for me means facing death all the time,” he said.

The UN human rights report said security forces were also contributing to problems in Mosul.—Reuters