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Stabilizing Iraq: Why Mosul is a special case

The fatal shooting of a young man on a crowded downtown street illustrates why Americans could have trouble completely leaving this troubled provincial capital.

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US soldiers patrol in Mosul, Iraq, on June 17. With the June 30th deadline looming for US troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities, the daily violence in the city illustrates why Americans could have trouble completely leaving Mosul.

Saad Shalash/Reuters

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As the June 30 deadline approaches for US troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities, the murder of a young man on a crowded downtown street illustrates why Americans could have trouble completely leaving this troubled provincial capital.

He was shot in mid-morning, on a street crowded with shoppers. His name was unknown but his family will likely identify him by the butterfly tattooed on his foot with the inscription 'Oh Sorrow'.

"Mosul is a special situation... it is unstable here," explains an Iraqi security officer who did not want his name to be used.

US commanders say the number of reported attacks in Iraq's second biggest city have been cut by more than half with far fewer of the devastating suicide bombs and car bombs that have been the hallmark of Sunni insurgents. But smaller attacks – three to four a day – have become the backdrop of daily life here.

"What we typically see are small arms attacks, pipe bombs and hand grenades. Those are 'normal' attacks," says Col. Gary Volensky, commander of the 3rd Heavy Combat Brigade Team responsible for Mosul. "Anytime you have a vehicle-born IED, because we don't have those every day, those are insurgents wanting to demonstrate that they're still viable and that is not ordinary."

'It happens all the time'

Shootings have are so common they seem to barely faze residents here.

On Monday, customers leaving the Rafadain bank on Maidan street in West Mosul stepped around the body of the young man, which had been laid out on the sidewalk after he was shot a few blocks away.

"It might have been a revenge killing," speculated one of the Iraqi security officers at the circle where his body had been brought to the traffic police stationed there.

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