Victory In Mosul and the Grave, By Owei Lakemfa
As the cameras panned huge swaths of the Mosul, what I saw were not the handful of jubilant soldiers and government officials, but the complete devastation of the city; street after street, area after area, without a single building standing unscratched. The city would have to be bulldozed along with the human skeletons trapped for months in the rubble…
The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, cladded in black military uniform, stormed Mosul on Monday to declare victory in the city over the unstable minds of the Islamic State (ISIL). He told the world, he had come to Mosul “to announce its liberation and congratulate the armed forces and Iraqi people on this victory.” It seemed a sweet victory, with an elated Abadi surrounded by enthusiastic government officials, policemen and soldiers. But victory came too late for the thousands that died, some of them without the privilege of even shallow or unmarked graves; their flesh becoming food for vultures. Victory had come too late for forty percent of the Iraqi elite army, the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), which in nine months lost forty percent of its men. Before the war intensified four months ago, 774 of its men had been killed by ISIS. Victory has come at the cost of children losing their innocence, families broken up – some forever, schools, hospitals, bridges, monuments, including the famous Grand al-Nuri Mosque, erased from the surface of the earth. As the cameras panned huge swaths of the Mosul, what I saw were not the handful of jubilant soldiers and government officials, but the complete devastation of the city; street after street, area after area, without a single building standing unscratched. The city would have to be bulldozed along with the human skeletons trapped for months in the rubble; human beings sent to early graves in in bombings and bombardments. They are the monuments of a war many of them knew nothing about.
As expected, there are no casualty figures for the civilians, they are a mere collateral damage; they met death in the hands of ISIS, the Iraqi Army and their foreign backers, who helped bomb Mosul into extinction. The New York Times reported that, “In the heart of the old city, craters littered intersections and roadways, marking the places where bombs pummeled the ground, dropped from coalition warplanes. Street after street was covered in soaring piles of rubble, with rebar poking out of shattered masonry.” What was Mosol is gone; only its shell has been captured, while its ghost hovers around.
Those who, in 2003, started the fires in Iraq are between 3,242 to 11,000 kilometres away, while the Iraqis are doing the dying. A once strong and prosperous country is broken up; a sacrifice on the altar of greed.
In the victory speeches and congratulatory messages from various countries, no mention is made of those who invaded and destroyed Iraq under false pretense, rendering it incapable of defending itself against a rag tag army largely made up of foreigners. No reminder about the regional and world powers who created, trained, armed and funded ISIS with the aim of overthrowing the Syrian government. That was before it became a Frankenstein monster threatening to consume their allies and carrying the war to European capitals by acts of terrorism. Little was mentioned of the over one million people displaced in nine months of fighting, and about the cumulative millions of Iraqis who have been dispatched out of existence, injured, displaced or forced into exile since the invasion of the country.
These senseless wars and many going on around the world should teach humanity some basic lessons. Those, especially youth in various parts of the world running after demagogues, listening to demented preachers, voicing support for foreign invaders, being slaves to profiteers and political buccaneers and threatening their fellow citizens, should watch the clips of Mosul.
It had taken ISIS four days to seize Mosul, and taken Iraq and its backers three years, including nine months of intense fighting, to regain its skeletal remains. Yet the death of Mosul is not the end of the war; there are still cities and towns like Tal Afar, Western Anba and Hawija or whatever is left of them, to be retaken. Across the border in Syria, Raqqa, which ISIS proclaimed its capital, is also yet to be retaken. Even if all the territories occupied by ISIS are retaken, that will not mean the end of the conflicts as the terrorists, just by shaving their beards and wearing less conspicuous clothes, can melt into the civil populace and wreak havoc, especially as suicide bombers.
These senseless wars and many going on around the world should teach humanity some basic lessons. Those, especially youth in various parts of the world running after demagogues, listening to demented preachers, voicing support for foreign invaders, being slaves to profiteers and political buccaneers and threatening their fellow citizens, should watch the clips of Mosul. Rather than use their internet access to send hate speeches and threats, they should watch videos of the on-going devastation of Yemen, of ancient Syria laid waste, of prosperous Libya turned into a basket case. They should watch the devastation of the First and Second World Wars, where Europeans turned their internal disagreements and thirst for colonies into universal tragedies. They should watch videos of the Nigerian Civil War, in which mothers buried their infants or willingly gave their children to international agencies, never to see them again. A tragedy in which over a million youth went out and never returned to their homestead.
The way some talk glibly about war reminds me of the child who boasted that he is not afraid of war, because if it breaks out, he would run and hide under his grandmother’s bed, as if her house is immune to war. When young American President John Fitzgerald Kennedy talked about going to war with the defunct Soviet Union over the missile crisis in Cuba, then Soviet president, Nikita Khrushchev wrote him on October 26, 1962 saying, “We (Soviet Union) have always regarded war as a calamity, and not as a game nor as a means for the attainment of definite goals, nor, all the more, as a goal in itself…if indeed war should break out, then it would not be in our power to stop it, for such is the logic of war. I have participated in two wars and know that war never ends unless it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction.”
I am not a pacifist, but war cannot be the first option; it must be the very last; it must be inevitable and it should be just. We must campaign for peace over violence and speak the language of development rather than be repeater stations for the rhetoric of threats and violence. We should prefer to build monuments to development and human victories rather than to war, or liter the landscape with war museums.
Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.