In the posh neighbourhood of Vasant Vihar, pink, yellow and grey ribbons adorn the gates of a four-storey building. From the first-floor balcony hangs a poster: “With efforts of Iraqis, the city of Mosul has been liberated from the hands of Daesh terrorist organisation.” Next to it flutters the Iraqi flag in Delhi, over 3,200 km from Mosul. Inside the building, Iraq’s envoy to India Fakhri Hassan Al Issa is ecstatic: “It was the toughest war since Stalingrad. The Iraqis have won one of the toughest battles since World War II.”
It’s 3.10 pm and the embassy’s official working hours are over. But, the 66-year-old ambassador is planning a mega celebration for “friends of Iraq” to mark Mosul’s liberation, sometime next week. Al Issa, who arrived in Delhi about a year-and-a-half ago, still remembers the smell of Kubba’t Mosul — a meat patty unique to the city — from his visit seven years ago. “I visited Mosul in 2010… and can still recall the aroma of Kubba. The city is in ruins now, millions have been displaced, thousands killed. It has to be rebuilt from scratch and will need India’s help. We need that aroma of Kubba back,” he said.
“We were sure we were going to win. But Daesh was holding civilians hostage and using them as human shields, so our troops had to be careful. It was a matter of time…. The final assault lasted for about nine months,” said Al Issa, who heard the news of Mosul’s fall on TV while he was with his family in Canada. The ambassador said the victory of the Iraqi forces is a “big victory for the world, for the entire region.”
So, are the 39 Indians abducted by IS three years ago alive, as claimed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj? “I have heard this statement. One hopes so. Let’s be optimistic,” said Al Issa. He has not met the families of these Indians. “I can’t make any promise… cannot give them any information.” On Sunday, Swaraj had said the 39 Indians abducted in Iraq may be in a jail in Badush, where fighting is still under way.
Al Issa left Iraq as a 30-year-old, weeks before the Iraq-Iran war broke out in 1980, for fear of persecution by the regime. He returned to his hometown Baghdad in 2006, after having lived in Kuwait, Jordan, Greece and Canada with his wife and four children. “I was… against the Saddam Hussein regime’s policies, against all his wars, the destruction which he caused. I came back to rebuild the country,” he said. Now, with Mosul liberated, he says, “The doors and windows of Iraq are open. I hope Indian companies and hospitals are not scared anymore and they come to rebuild Mosul and other areas.” Outside the building, M D Sangma of the 6th battalion of Meghalaya police stands guard. “I have learnt a lot about this country and their soldier’s sacrifices. One hopes peace returns there,” he said.