Residents in the heart of 'caliphate' cheer news of death

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared himself "caliph" over millions in Iraq and Syria at the Al-Nuri Mosque in 2014. Residents near Mosul's historic Al-Nuri Mosque, which stands gutted and covered in graffiti. Many of Mosul's neighbourhoods, particularl
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared himself "caliph" over millions in Iraq and Syria at the Al-Nuri Mosque in 2014. Residents near Mosul's historic Al-Nuri Mosque, which stands gutted and covered in graffiti. Many of Mosul's neighbourhoods, particularly the historic Old City which was the last area to be retaken, remain in ruins. PHOTO: REUTERS
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared himself "caliph" over millions in Iraq and Syria at the Al-Nuri Mosque in 2014. Residents near Mosul's historic Al-Nuri Mosque, which stands gutted and covered in graffiti. Many of Mosul's neighbourhoods, particularl
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared himself ''caliph'' over millions in Iraq and Syria at the Al-Nuri Mosque in 2014.

MOSUL (Iraq) • Five years after he made their home town infamous as the heart of his "caliphate", residents of Iraq's Mosul said Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death should be marked only one way - with "a huge party".

In June 2014, Baghdadi climbed a flight of stairs at the Al-Nuri Mosque in the northern Iraqi city and declared himself "caliph" over millions of people in Iraq and Syria.

The announcement unleashed a volley of violence that killed thousands, displaced millions and left cities across both countries in ruins - including Mosul.

"The people of Mosul should have a huge party," said 37-year-old resident Khaled Waleed, wearing a baseball cap and white shirt, on the news of Baghdadi's death.

"This criminal, this butcher Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he killed and slaughtered everyone," he said bitterly.

Mr Hani Mahmoud, 54, recalled: "I've had three strokes because of Daesh," referring to the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"My house burned down. My car was set on fire," said the portly man with a closely trimmed white beard.

Ms Umm Alaa, an Iraqi woman dressed in a worn black robe, said Baghdadi "made our lives hell".

"There's not a single house they didn't attack, not a single house they didn't oppress," she said.

"This is a festival, a festival for all Iraqis because he destroyed us," she added.

 
 
 
 

ISIS kept Mosul in its grip for three years, until a ferocious offensive by US-backed Iraqi troops ousted the militants in 2017.

But the group left behind a horrifying legacy.

Many of Mosul's neighbourhoods, particularly the historic Old City which was the last area to be retaken, remain in ruins.

Slabs of concrete hang off destroyed and abandoned buildings.

The historic Al-Nuri Mosque stands gutted and covered in graffiti, while the adjacent ancient minaret - long the city's symbol - was blown up in the violence.

Mr Bashar Hussam, 31, survived life under ISIS - unlike his father.

"My father had a blood clot and they didn't let us leave until he died in front of my own eyes," Mr Hussam said.

While he was glad to see Baghdadi die, it was not quite the happy ending he had hoped for.

"We want the other good news - that they rebuild our houses, that we go back to work and to our livelihoods."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2019, with the headline 'Residents in the heart of 'caliphate' cheer news of death'. Print Edition | Subscribe