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IRAQ: A visit to a troubled northern city

Said_rifai_grn_200

By Said Rifai In Mosul

I traveled this week to Mosul, the northern city where Iraqi and U.S. security forces declared an offensive on Al Qaeda in Iraq earlier this month. It was the latest in a string of campaigns in Nineveh province against Sunni militants. 

I moved around the city with a delegation headed by Vice President Tareq Hashimi, a Sunni Arab, whose movement, the Iraqi Islamic Party, could do well in provincial elections scheduled for later this year. The government has promised more than $100 million in reconstruction funds to Mosul and Nineveh province, according to Hashimi.

We visited shops in central Mosul, located outside the Nineveh government compound, which is surrounded by security forces and walled off with concrete barriers.

Hashimi walked down the street, surrounded by provincial officials, advisors and bodyguards.  Only about 40% of the shops were open. He greeted random shopkeepers, who praised the government's latest campaign. Still they said more needed to be done to improve the situation.

I spoke to several civilians on my own. "The security situation has become better in the past couple of weeks," said 21-year-old Muhannad Mohammad, "although most of the shops close at approximately 4 p.m.because the curfew starts at 6 p.m." The violence has been bad for business. "If something happens, all the roads get closed and we either can’t get to work or go back home," Mohammad said from the entrance to the boutique where he works. Remarkably few women were in the marketplace.

Sitting in a plastic chair in the middle of the sidewalk, Ibrahim Fathi Abdullah fiddled with his worry beads and contemplated Mosul's future. "The situation has become much better during the past 10 days,’ he said.

Abdullah, an electrician by trade, is struggling to earn money. "I’m working now but it’s not that good. I just barely bring enough money to sustain my three boys, two daughters and my wife," he said. Abdullah then thanked God aloud for the improvements in security since earlier May.

"There would be days where we couldn’t even make it to work. We’d stay put at home because if anything happened. We were afraid of arbitrary detention by the security forces," he added.

From a doorway, barber Mohammad Bashar said the latest security plan had so far produced only mixed results. "I don’t think stability in Mosul will be complete unless the government starts working seriously on reconstruction," Bashar said.

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the frictions between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

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