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We can learn from Isil, says Mosul leader

Atheel al-Nujaifi has recruited a cadre of Sunni former Iraqi generals and displaced residents for his Hashd al-Watani.

Published: 06th June 2016 10:38 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th June 2016 10:56 AM   |  A+A-

The exiled governor of Mosul has formed his own militia to try to liberate his city from Isil, but while he wants the jihadists overthrown he told The Daily Telegraph there are things to be learned from their rule.

Atheel al-Nujaifi has recruited a cadre of Sunni former Iraqi generals and displaced residents for his Hashd al-Watani, or Popular Mobilisation Forces.

At their base in Bashiqa 10 miles east of Mosul in northern Iraq they have begun training for an offensive to retake the city, which has become the heart of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's "caliphate". The group, thought to number nearly 10,000 men, is being advised by Turkish troops on the ground and has received help from the US-led coalition, Mr Nujaifi said.

Whatever combination of Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga and sectarian militias frees Mosul, in theory it will be the PMF that will then hold the Sunni-majority city, now home to some 1.5 million people.

"The people from Mosul must be the ones to liberate their city," he said. The governor fled when the jihadists raised their flag over Mosul in June 2014, and now runs his office from the Kurdish capital of Erbil 50 miles away. He was dismissed last year as governor by the Iraqi parliament, which said he bore some responsibility for Mosul's fall.

"While some residents of Mosul just want to be free from Daesh [Isil] at any cost, the majority believe it's better to be trapped under them than freed by a Shia army," said Mr Nujaifi, who is in regular contact with people inside. The Iraqi army, made up mostly of Shias, is highly feared by most Sunnis, particularly after reports of killings and destruction when they retook the city of Tikrit further south.

"Daesh managed to take Mosul in 2014 because at the time the people thought their government didn't care about them. They saw the Iraqi army as an occupying force which did not represent them," he said. "For many the idea of an Islamic caliphate led by Sunnis was appealing." Isil took hold in Iraq at a time when the Sunni minority was ripe to accept the group as a bulwark against political marginalisation and persecution by the then-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

While acknowledging that life has been tough under Isil, which has residents flogged, imprisoned and executed for crimes as minor as smoking, he said the city had in some ways flourished.

"What Daesh has managed to do is decentralise governance," he said. "No longer is Mosul's future determined by politicians in Baghdad. We agree with some of the things they [Isil] have done and don't agree with others," he said.

"But we need to follow the changes, not to go back to what we had before." Asked what he would do with Isil leaders should they be caught, he said: "Only the people (of Mosul) know who the criminals are, and they will be brought before a judge."

When he fled the city, Mr Nujaifi never imagined he would be gone for two years. "I couldn't believe that Iraq, and the world, would just let it fall," he said. "If they had intervened then Daesh wouldn't be so entrenched."

He can see himself returning to govern a newly liberated Mosul, but said he would first want to hold elections to determine whether he still had the popular support.

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