Why anti-US attacks have spread to Iraq's north
MOSUL, IRAQ — Orange flames hissing in the winter drizzle and a plume of thick black smoke coiling up from a shattered oil pipeline mark the latest hit-and-run raid by Iraqi insurgents around this once calm city in northern Iraq.
In recent weeks, Mosul has witnessed a spate of roadside bombings, assassinations, and rocket attacks against American troops and their Iraqi allies.
The recent violence plaguing Iraq's third-largest city comes in marked contrast to the relatively peaceful months immediately after the war, when American troops were greeted with smiles, and Iraqi children would say in broken English "Mr. Bush, good."
According to Iraqi authorities in Mosul, the upsurge in attacks is part of a deliberate strategy by the insurgents to expand guerrilla operations northward from the so-called Sunni triangle, until now the focus of most anticoalition violence.
"Members of the former regime are working with Islamists in Mosul and from elsewhere, including from outside the country, and they are being paid by Saddam [Hussein] and Izzat Ibrahim [al-Duri]," says Mohammed al-Kaki, who heads the military wing of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) here. Mr. Duri was vice president of the Baath Party's Revolutionary Command Council, Iraq's highest governing body, and Mr. Hussein's closest confidant. He is the Coalition's second-most wanted man.
Coalition forces say that Duri is directing much of the insurgency campaign. Senior Iraqi security officials are linking the beginning of the anticoalition attacks with Duri's arrival three months ago in a small village east of Mosul.
"He stayed for a short period and paid people to cause trouble," says Gen. Zaid Awni, a senior Iraqi policeman here. "The Americans went to catch him but he had gone." On Wednesday, Coalition forces detained Duri's wife and daughter.
General Awni says that there is no shortage of anti-US volunteers. "All the high-ranking Baathists in the security and intelligence services no longer receive their salaries, and most of them are from Mosul. They have reason to be angry and are willing to accept money to fight the Americans," he says.
Adding to the instability are common criminals taking advantage of a weak police force, and the softer rule of law brought in by the Americans, who replaced the often brutal justice system dispensed by the former regime. Then there are the daily frustrations of intermittent electricity and fuel shortages.
"The economic situation has to improve," says Hamid Ibrahim, owner of a clothing store. "The opposition are hiring poor people because there are no jobs. A poor person will do anything to feed his family. Democracy is fine, but you can't eat ideas."
The attacks against US forces include the execution Sunday of two soldiers on a busy street. The same day, an Iraqi police colonel in charge of security for oil installations was shot as he left a mosque.
US forces also suffered their highest number of casualties in a single incident when two Blackhawk helicopters collided two weeks ago, apparently while avoiding ground fire. Seventeen soldiers died.
Although there are sizable Kurdish and Christian populations here, the city is mainly Sunni and was a bastion of support for Hussein. For some, old habits die hard.
Take Farouq, a former colonel in the Iraqi Army. He declines to give his full name, but says he does not support the resistance. Yet tucked discreetly behind the television in his small sitting room is a framed photograph of the former Iraqi president. And it doesn't take long for Farouq's true feelings to surface.
"Why was there a war?" he asks. "They never found any weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was a stable country before the Americans came. Everyday there is resistance now and it's a very strong resistance. The Americans will be resisted no matter how long they stay."
That resistance is also having an impact on the PUK and other Kurdish groups in Mosul. The Kurds are staunch allies of the Americans. The PUK arrived in Mosul as triumphant liberators alongside American forces, when the regime in Baghdad collapsed in mid-April. The PUK is headed by Jalal Talabani, who is president of the interim Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad.
But Mr. Kaki, the PUK militia leader, says that the PUK's authority as the strongest political force in Mosul is being undermined because the US has taken away their heavy weapons and forbidden them from carrying arms in public.
"Without our weapons, the resistance has more opportunities to launch attacks," he says. "If the Americans gave us back our weapons, we would guarantee that no Americans would be killed."