By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
In June 2014 when ISIS rolled into Mosul many western media called them “insurgents.” Within a month they had expelled Christians from the city, ending 1,600 years of historical presence. This was an act of ethnic-cleansing, but worse was to come. In August ISIS began its genocide of the Yazidi minority. Many of the thousands of womne it kidnapped were brought to Mosul and sold in slave auctions. ISIS began destroying ancient historical sites as well, a cultural genocide of Iraq’s history. In February 2015 video emerged of it destroying the Mosul museum. Libraries were burned, and mass graves dug for Iraqis that ISIS executed. In total 155 heritage sites were destroyed in Mosul, including ancient shrines from various faiths. In June 2017, facing defeat, ISIS blew up the iconic mosque of al-Nuri and its leaning minaret. ISIS did unspeakable crimes in Mosul, on par with Nazism and other genocidal ideologies. It ethnically and religiously cleansed, it erased history and minorities.
Through it all many ignored the day-to-day violence of ISIS and its crimes. The volume of crimes eventually became “boring” to many western media. But when the Iraqi army began to enter the city then all of a sudden the media and attention returned. However as the liberation progressed it seemed there was less focus on victims of ISIS and more focus on what the Iraqi army and its coalition allies were “doing” to the city. The narrative became reversed, as if ISIS was the victim, and the perpetrators were the liberators “destroying” the city. What about holding ISIS responsible? They could have left the city. No one forced them to dig tunnels and put IEDs everywhere and festoon mosques with snipers. No one forced them to gun down civilians who fled. Horrific video shows ISIS murdering people in Mosul. US medics volunteering in Mosul shot video of groups of people shot by ISIS snipers.
Yet the privileged westerners sitting on their couches know better. They know who is the “real” problem in Mosul, not ISIS, but the liberators. One particularly disturbing thread by a professor from the US mocks the liberation, commenting beside a photo of the Old City “Mosul ‘liberated.'” In response one woman showed a pretty photo of the city under Saddam, apparently the good old days. Replies noted that it looked like Dresden, the firebombing of which killed around 25,000 people. “So it goes,” wrote one commenter, referencing the book by Kurt Vonnegut. “Nice, you got the Dresden reference. Obviously not a Trump supporter. They are not erudite enough to get my comment.:)” Another non-Trump supporter noted “That’s just horrendous and obscene. It was once a gorgeous city. This is beyond sad.” And, “how could such destruction be unleashed on densely populated areas without having committed a warcrime? Military neccessity to level it?”
More westerners who have never been to Mosul or asked anyone what it is like there, noted “everything is in ruins.” Blah blah. “In war everyone loses.” And “what’s the difference between liberation and destruction.” People with names like “Julie” and “Duff” said it was “heartbreaking.”
What was heartbreaking? The selling of 5,000 Yazidi women into gang rape and slavery? No. The destruction of parts of Mosul due to war against ISIS. Not that ISIS was there in the first place.
If you were to say that it was due to ISIS, then the reply is “not just ISIL.”
And of course, who profits? “Bonanza for reconstruction companies & yeah also for world bank, IMF pushing syria into perpetual debt with huge loans.”
Krist Armstrong reminds us that Mosul was “amongst worst urban wars in decades.” Graham says “It’s like that infamous US military claim about Vietnam, to the effect that in order to save a particular village they had to destroy it.” Mary “such a tragic site.”
And on and on. “OMG”, “What is left?”;” How painful to look at. All that damage, killed and hurt people, now homeless.” And of course. “US regime change.” Because removing genocidal ISIS, in which Iraqis did almost all the fighting, was “regime change” agains the victim, ISIS?
It’s hard to read all this nonsense but it shows how the narrative is so easily bought that ISIS is somehow the victim and the perpetrators are the people removing ISIS. The voices in the West who rush forward to always be angry about destruction in Mosul, didn’t care in 2014 when ISIS arrived. They could have done more to prevent ISIS attacking Mosul and done more to stop ISIS destroying the city. But they didn’t seem to be so outraged when ISIS was razing universities, libraries, ethnically-cleansing minority, blowing up shrines.
Why didn’t they care back then? The same voices who didn’t care when the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas, but were angry over the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. Perhaps if the Taliban had been stopped earlier then Al-Qaeda would not have put down roots and no 9/11? But no, the “problem” is when you fight the Taliban, the Taliban committing ethnic cleansing of Hazaras isn’t a problem. Taliban attacking the Northern Alliance is not a problem, but fighting against the Taliban is.
Here is a video from Mosul from a liberated zone in the West in March, it’s not all destroyed.
I’ve seen the devastation that ISIS did, erasing cultures and history, digging up villages and placing IEDs and tunneling through walls. But others didn’t notice for some reason. They waited through 2014, 2015, 2016 and then all of a sudden in July 2017 they became experts on Mosul. “The whole city destroyed.” And “it’s like Dresden.” But it isn’t like Dresden.
It’s important to keep the focus on the perpetrators, which is ISIS. It is also important for westerners and others who always “know” everything to take a second to learn about Mosul. It isn’t Dresden, it wasn’t totally destroyed.