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Sunni ex-governor: Mosul was 'handed over' to Islamic State Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Sunni ex-governor: Mosul was 'handed over' to Islamic State

Atheel al-Nujaifi [Anadolu file photo]

Date of publication: 18 March, 2017

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In an exclusive interview with The New Arab, Atheel al-Nujaifi, the embattled former governor of Mosul, accuses the Iraqi government of seeking to alter the city's demographics after liberation
Nujaifi was the governor of Nineveh province and its capital, Mosul, when Islamic State fighters captured the city in June 2014. Shortly after this defeat, Nujaifi was stripped of his role by the Iraqi government in Baghdad. Nujaifi has more recently been living in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. The commander of the Turkish-backed Nineveh Guard Sunni militia was charged in October 2015 with allegedly spying for the Turkish military.

As the battle to capture Mosul back from Islamic State [IS] draws near to a close, many questions remain about the future of the Sunni-majority city. What lies in store for Mosul and the Nineveh governorate? How will the complex interactions between the various often-rival forces involved, from Turkey and Iran, to the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad play out? Nujaifi, a man who has inside knowledge of and deep involvement in the events in Mosul, had a lot to say about these questions. He was interviewed by The New Arab Arabic edition's Othman al-Mukhtar. Text below

OTHMAN AL-MUKHTAR: In previous statements you have expressed fear of 'demographic alterations' after the liberation of Mosul. Can you elaborate?

ATHEEL AL-NUJAIFI: Local forces from Mosul are deliberately being excluded in the operation to retake, secure, stabilise and normalise the city in favour of forces from outside of Mosul who are being given a chance to seize it. Known Shia parties and armed militias now have offices inside Mosul, working to recruit youths using different means, and clearly imposing their will, in the eastern part of the city. In the western part, the city is being deliberately destroyed using excessive fire power, while people are being forced to leave to the eastern part.

All this is one of the causes of demographic alterations. Armed Shabak [an ethnic group in Nineveh] were given support while Christians, Kurds and Muslim Arabs were excluded.
I was the governor of Mosul and I say Mosul did not fall but was handed over to Daesh [Islamic State]

'Mosul was surrendered'

MUKHTAR: Why have the fall of Mosul not been investigated further in court, with former prime minister Maliki put on trial?

NUJAIFI: I was the governor of Mosul and I say Mosul did not fall but was handed over to Daesh [Islamic State]. The Federal Police did not fight and withdrew gradually...without firing a single bullet. Police withdrew from the eastern part, after which the western part fell. For this reason I am not surprised by the destruction visited currently on the city.

This has been my feeling since the first day afrer Daesh came. I remember saying to those who were with me in the car: I expect the Revolutionary Guards will take over after. As for the judiciary, it has not moved yet in this regard. There was an investigation committee in parliament but it was a ploy by entities that know nothing about investigations [...].

MUKHTAR: You have been accused of promoting a project for a Mosul autonomous region. 

NUJAIFI: This is not accurate. When I spoke about a Nineveh region, I meant a legal constitutional entity. Those who claim this is a kind of partition or secession are misconstruing the facts [...]. We believe the direct central administration out of Baghdad has failed and caused problems outside the capital.

If regional administrations in Nineveh are not re-organised, we may face major problems and conflicts in the region, specially in hot spots like Sinjar, Tel Afar, Mosul and the Nineveh plaine.

Daesh's administration was very strict, governing with an iron fist, and I believe the consequences will be dire and it would be hard for the city and the province to breathe again without a civilian administration


After IS

MUKHTAR: What can you tell us about the Nineveh Guard?

NUJAIFI: The Nineveh Guard consist of Nineveh locals and tribes who volunteered to fight Daesh and restore security to cities in the province.

We currently have a full brigade taking part in holding territory in eastern Mosul but not inside the city, and two brigades in their bases. These troops can enter Mosul and handle security there, but we are keen for this not to be part of political conflicts. I believe that if there is no political agreement on the entry of the Nineveh Guard into the city to deploy and keep the order in a different way from the approach of the current forces like the army, police and militias, which continue their practices from the time before the fall of Mosul, then we will face a real problem.

We believe that if the Nineveh Guard enter things would be different. They would rely on citizens as part of their security plan, empowering and protecting them against terrorism. In this case, terrorism will be weakened.

MUKHTAR: What is your view on appointing a military governor of Mosul after liberation?

NUJAIFI: I do not understand what powers would a military governor have to manage the province. Before talking about a military governor, we must talk about the army and security structure. I believe there is a need for the international coalition to deploy close to the province and close to any person or entity governing Mosul, to give them confidence and support to implement their plan for the city and its people.

There is no civilian administration in Nineveh whatsoever. People do not feel there is any entity responsible for managing their public affairs. Daesh's administration was very strict, governing with an iron fist, and I believe the consequences will be dire and it would be hard for the city and the province to breathe again without a civilian administration.

The Turkish presence is certainly positive. It provides logistical support and training for the Nineveh Guard and Kurdish forces as part of the effort to defeat Daesh.

The 'positive role' of Gulf countries and Turkey

MUKHTAR: Are you doing anything to address the devastation in Mosul?

NUJAIFI: We have been working for some time to hold meetings with some Arab governments, especially in the Gulf, to get support for all liberated regions, not just Mosul. There has been some good response from these countries but they have asked for clear mechanisms to take part in reconstruction. We are keen on developing these mechanisms.

I believe a role for these countries could create real balance in Iraq, and help rehabilitate the community that was under Daesh, with its relationship with the government strained.

MUKHTAR: What do you have to say about Turkish military presence in Bashiqa?

NUJAIFI: The Turkish presence is certainly positive. It provides logistical support and training for the Nineveh Guard and Kurdish forces as part of the effort to defeat Daesh. There is no armed [Turkish] force in the area contrary to all allegations. Turkey stands to gain from stability in Mosul...and its cooperation with Arab countries pleases us, in that there would be a regional structure to support security in Iraq unlike Iran's intervention. Iran is pursuing a devastating sectarian project in Iraq and 
the entire region.

MUKHTAR: Is it true that Baghdad supports the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)?

NUJAIFI: The PKK used to receive support in the past from the Iraqi government, but that stopped under international pressure. It is now supported by some armed factions backed by Iran. PKK militants occupy Iraqi territories in Nineveh, which portend to cause armed conflict not with the local communities, but with the Peshmerga forces. It is Iran that is behind this.

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