01/21/2005, 00.00
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Mosul under Baathist-Islamist control

Rome (AsiaNews) – The happy ending to Mgr Basile Georges Casmoussa's abduction does not make Mosul a safer city. Questions persist about what is going on in the city which has become a virtual No Man's Land in the hands thugs and kidnappers.

Things have been out of control for some time. The city's Governor, Yussof Kashmula, was murdered on July 14, 2004, because he was not a Baathist. The Deputy Governor, who is Kurdish, has been threatened several times and is under constant protection. And the population lives terrified.

Local police is de facto controlled by Baathist elements, who have forged an alliance with Islamists forces. Both groups want to prevent elections, the former to regain power, the latter to establish an Islamist state.

The alliance is strong and based on a division of labour. Islamists supply cannon fodder—fighters and suicide bombers—whilst Baathists provide logistical support—maps, intimate knowledge of the city, explosives, electronic devices and technical know-how.

Thus, Baathists have been able to rebuild their network of cells and are playing a crucial role in shaping how the insurgency is fighting against the occupiers and the interim government.

Cutting throats, group murders, and abductions of women and innocent people are tried methods borrowed directly from Saddam Hussein's secret police.

Both the city of Mosul and its provinces are now under Baathist control thanks in no small part to the fact when its police force was reconstituted a few months ago, 96 per cent of the new officers were insurgents from Falluja.

If stopping the elections is the first goal, stopping the country's economic reconstruction is the second. The Kirkuk pipeline is a key to the strategy; on average, it is hit every three days.

Iraq's National Guard is in charge of protecting it and its access roads.

The abduction of the Bishop of Mosul is part of this terror strategy.

Chaldeans and Assyrians want to vote but Islamists and Baathists want to prevent them from doing so. So, in Mosul no one is talking about elections and no one is campaigning for it.

According to Mgr Louis Sako, Chaldean Bishop of Kirkuk, his colleague's abduction was warning to others of worse things to come if Christians vote.

As part of this strategy of intimidation, churches were methodically bombed. Insurgents entered the buildings, forced everyone out and laid down the charges to explode.

Two Catholic churches were thus laid waste on December 7; three other church buildings were destroyed on December 20: the Bishop's House of the Syrian-Orthodox Church, a Syrian-Catholic church and the Bishop's House of the Chaldean Church.

Under the circumstances no one is likely to vote. So, what kind of elections will they be?

A local source told AsiaNews that "elections will be free [in those regions of the country] where there is freedom and security. Where neither exists, there won't be any free elections. None the less, it will be better than in neighbouring countries. Nowhere in the Arab Middle East are there free elections".

Locals say that US troops gave up control of Mosul after December 22 when they experienced one of their worse losses:  22 dead and over 60 wounded.

Much less can be expected from Iraq's National Guard, which refuses to accept Kurdish applicants. The refusal is ideological because Kurds are anti-Baathist but it is also economic and ethnic because Kurds and Arabs are vying for control of the same oil-rich area.

For decades Saddam's regime pursued a policy of Arabisation and de-Kurdification. At least, 200,000 Kurds were expelled from the area. Now Kurds are trying to reclaim what was theirs and want a say over Kirkuk oil.

In the last two months, 78 Kurds have been killed; as people have come to expect, their throats cut.

Iraq's National Guard, which should enforce law and order, has done little to stop street gangs roaming the streets.

Some stop people to check identity papers and find out whether they speak Arabic and not.  If people are Kurdish they are marked.

Other groups enforce Islamic customs and spray women without headscarf with acid.

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