With the United States due to begin a slow pullout of its approximately 2,000 soldiers from Syria, questions abound in Western media as to whether the withdrawal will help to fertilise the soil for the regrowth of Daesh.
However, Sputnik spoke to one man, Ali Younnes, of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces who fought to expel the terrorist group from Mosul in 2017, who argues that a US troop pullout can only be a good thing.
"Wherever American forces get involved, they occupy, invade or bomb and the country goes to hell," he told Sputnik over a crackling telephone line from his home in Baghdad's Al-Thawra district.
"Trump says that America beat Daesh, but really most of the fight was carried out by indigenous forces here in Iraq and in Syria. The US killed more innocent people than Daesh with its bombs," he adds with a flare of anger in his voice.
The Cost of Defeating Daesh
In July 2017, then-Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi proudly proclaimed that the Daesh terrorist group has been defeated in its stronghold Mosul, one of Iraq's most historically significant and populated cities.
Standing amidst the smouldering slag heaps of concrete in the Old City, he declared that, "From here, from the heart of free and liberated Mosul, by the sacrifices of the Iraqis from all the governorates, we announce the awaited victory to all of Iraq, and the Iraqis."
At Hassansham #IDP camp in #Ninewa earlier today where over 900 families remain displaced. Barriers to return include security concerns, damage to housing, and lack of services in areas of origin such as west #Mosul. pic.twitter.com/HyzuS0mBgn
— Siobhan Simojoki (@ssimojoki) 19 December 2018
Yet, despite the jubilation and self-congratulatory tone among Baghdad's political class at the time, the old half of the city has been almost entirely destroyed — including the Grand Mosque of al-Nuri from where Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi proclaimed the creation of the new ‘caliphate' in July 2014 — predominantly by US-coalition-led airstrikes. US bombing raids would usually target Daesh snipers on rooftops or housing used by the militants to store weapons. The United Nations estimates that the battle has left around ten million tons of rubble.
"Western Mosul is very crowded, so it was difficult for the Americans to accurately bomb Daesh targets. But they dropped many bombs anyway, often killing hundreds of civilians just to get one or two Daesh guys that they might have seen on a roof or something. This kind of action from a foreign power is more likely to make people angry and give Daesh more recruits, not stop them," says Younnes.
‘Skeletons in the Rubble'
Younnes tells a story that has now gone down in infamy among Mosul's almost two million residents about how in March 2017 the US dropped a five-hundred-pound bomb on a rooftop in the Old City in an effort to kill two alleged Daesh snipers. The resultant explosion killed one hundred and five civilians, including tens of children, who had sought refuge from the fighting in the building.
"They [US military] completely stopped caring about the so-called rules of engagement. Distinction between civilians and fighters, none of that stuff mattered. We [Iraqi forces] with support from Iran could have gotten Daesh out of Mosul on our own, and many innocent people would still be alive," Younnes bemoans.
"Mosul was once the economic centre of Northern Iraq, now it is like hell. Rubble everywhere, as far as your eye can see. There are decomposing bodies and skeletons in the rubble, sometimes the animals come to eat them and drag pieces on the roads. We sometimes refuse to come here on a windy day, or a hot day, because the smell of the bodies is too strong. Pieces of bone are on the roads, and a few weeks ago my cousin found two rotten heads that had been cut from their bodies — killed by Daesh. One was just a boy."
#Mosul #Iraq 2/19/18—Volunteers collect unclaimed bodies, most thought to be of #ISIS fighters killed in the battle that forced the group from the city. @ivorprickett for #NewYorkTimes pic.twitter.com/2YbosFMgdb— Ken Ralidis (@PostIllusionEra) 21 December 2018
Younnes is a member of a group known as the ‘Hashd al-Sha'abi,' who are a coalition of various Shiite militia that now operate as part of the Iraqi security and counter-terrorism forces. The Hashd were a key weapon in Baghdad's arsenal against Daesh in the Battle of Mosul, which began in October 2016. The group — which are trained, armed and funded by Iran's Revolutionary Guard — have stayed in Mosul, particularly the Old City, ever since. They regularly carry out patrols of the city and sometimes make arrests of those they suspect were, or indeed still are, affiliated with Daesh.
"We are still in Mosul because if we leave it is possible that Daesh might come back. The group still has some support here, it is important that we stay to stop the terrorists from returning. We are the ones who captured and killed Daesh with our own hands, using our experience," says Younnes.
RT @iraqsolidarity: Interviews with the courageous Iraqi priest rebuilding a church in Mosul, & the Christians who visit the city during the day but don't feel safe enough to live there. https://t.co/RFiMulI6yK #Iraq #Mosul #IraqiChristmas pic.twitter.com/tXxoVc3H6Z— SAT-7 UK (@SAT7UK) 21 December 2018
Youness' point taps into what many in the region and beyond are concerned about: that the Daesh remnants may take advantage of any, even the smallest, security vacuum to return to prominence in an even more dangerous and nihilistic incarnation.
Sputnik asks Younnes if there is not a danger of this happening if the US withdraws from its southeastern base in Syria, Al-Tanf.
"No. We did not need the US to help us in Iraq, they, with Daesh, destroyed Mosul and killed many innocent Iraqis. We can beat them and Syria is the same: in one US airstrike they might kill a few Daesh but will kill hundreds of civilians. Anyway, it is not effective to have an occupying foreign army that has no trust from the people. These are our people, so they trust us to do the job and don't fight against us," Younnes says with confidence.
"As for Syria, Daesh will not come back there as long as the Syrian Army, with help from its allies, retakes areas that America occupies and restores peace and security."