Mosul, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Governor of the Ninawa has stated that armed groups linked to Al-Qaeda are extorting money from a number of local shop owners and traders.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Governor Athil al-Najafi, who believes these activities are due to armed groups losing a large part of their funding sources, emphasized that civilians’ fear of being targeted makes them respond to this blackmail. He made it clear that the Iraqi security forces are fully in control of the city, and asked civilians to report such cases, which he described as few and limited, and hardly a ‘phenomenon’ in Mosul. He indicated that the intelligence possessed by the security services will enable them to arrest those engaging in such acts.
But the reality is contrary to the Governor’s remarks, as despite the falling levels of violence and attacks in Mosul and Nineveh province, and a reduction in arms smuggling across the border with Syria, threats and pressures are still the dominant ‘currency’ in the region, according to a report by the Agence France Press (AFP). Abdullah Ahmed Ali (44 years old) spoke on this subject: “Everyone pays and no one says no, or delays in his payments, because they [Al-Qaeda] would confiscate his car,
Abdullah Ahmed Ali, who owns a roadside rest stop, added “the Islamic State of Iraq [collective term for several Iraqi insurgent groups] imposes a fine on vehicles carrying food products coming from Syria, or Baghdad, up to the value of 200 dollars. There is a 150 dollar tax for [large] trucks traveling along this road, 100 dollars for a medium sized truck and 50 dollars for a small one”. He went on to say “Those who dare not pay would suffer a fate similar to that of Abu Mohammad, a merchant in the ‘Algeria’ district, who was killed, and his son was injured, when he refused to pay the State”, in reference to the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’. He added with sorrow, “Where are our security forces? If we had a security apparatus and strong intelligence to confront this problem (…) but even the elements protecting the security leaders are subject to the mercy of ‘Al-Qaeda’”.
Similar accounts can be found in abundance in Mosul, which was once an important centre for commerce throughout ancient times. A university professor in political science, who preferred to remain anonymous, said “Mosul has witnessed the birth of a new ‘mafia’, similar to those found in Italy, but with significant religious overtones”. He added “if we count the money collected by ‘Al-Qaeda’ each day, we would recognize that it can support its fighting not only in Mosul, but in all of Iraq, and maybe help towards its activities in Afghanistan and Yemen”. He pointed out that “security officials are fully aware of this, and they have a responsibility as guardians not to cooperate with these rogue ‘security services’, but the truth lies in the absence of a security apparatus, and intelligence”.
For his part, U.S. Army Captain Kenneth Benoit, who runs joint patrols with Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga in Nineveh province, said “Al-Qaeda is engaging in extortion practices, due to the suspension of its smuggling business, relating to weapons and explosives”. The Iraqi police also stressed this point. Col. Hamid Abdullah al-Mulahaq, of the Joint Forces, whose headquarters are based in Marez, southern Mosul, said “either they collect fines by force, or they receive financial assistance from abroad, to carry out attacks”.