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Iraq's Mosul hopes for end to stubborn insurgency
Fri Oct 2, 2009 8:00am EDT
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By Tim Cocks
MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - For a city under constant attack at the hands of a violent Sunni Arab insurgency, northern Iraq's Mosul looks in better shape than it has for many years.
Streets littered with bombed out rubble have been cleared and collapsed buildings resurrected, trash has been swept and trees planted along newly paved boulevards. A sports pitch built with American money brightens one run-down neighborhood.
But a return to normalcy in Mosul, once known across the Middle East as a center of learning and culture, remains a distant prospect as long as al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab insurgents continue their fight against the Iraqi government.
"We were terrified. We heard bombs every day," said Mohammed Anwar, 42, peering nervously from his small shop's fortified door at a U.S. and Iraqi army patrol outside.
"But I haven't heard an explosion for a while. God willing, it's getting better."
The blasts that shook Iraq's third biggest city almost hourly are in decline, but it remains violent, pot-holed and with miserably high unemployment, a shadow of its former self.
Services are woefully inadequate for a city of nearly 2 million, with scant electricity, water or rubbish collection and tons of sewage pumped raw into the Tigris river every day.
Insurgents became concentrated in Mosul after being driven out of former strongholds in Baghdad and western Anbar province by Sunni tribal sheikhs allied to U.S. forces in 2007.
That success has been hard to reproduce in northern Iraq, where a society bitterly divided between Kurds, Arabs and other ethnicities have made it harder to consolidate security gains.
Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province remain a conduit for Sunni militants with supply lines to Syria, through which Iraq says more than three quarters of foreign fighters pass.
"Nineveh's border with Syria is difficult to seal because of the long tradition of cross-border trade, much of it illicit," the International Crisis Group said in a paper this week, adding that this helped "explain the insurgency's relative success."
Tensions between Nineveh's Arab-led governorate and Kurdish leaders have meanwhile created a security vacuum in some areas -- where neither Iraqi soldiers nor the Kurds' own Peshmerga force are present in force -- exploited by insurgents.
As U.S. troops prepare to end their combat mission in Iraq by September 2010, they are racing to pacify Mosul before then.
The task is made harder by the fact that the city lies in the faultline of a power struggle over territory and oil between Baghdad the leaders of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, seen by the United States as the greatest threat to Iraq's stability. Continued...
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