Heroic tribal fighters played a large role in helping liberate towns and cities in northern Iraq
When Daesh swept into Mosul in 2014, it targeted the city’s leaders who had rejected extremist ideology since the emergence of terrorism in Iraq. The terrorists came with a list containing the names of elders, dignitaries and clerics. Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi commanded that “these apostates be cut off even if they seek haven in the curtain of the Kaaba.” Topping the list of names was Sheikh Khalid al-Sabah al-Jubouri, head of the al-Jabour clan in the Nimrud and Hamdania areas south of Mosul. The terrorists burned his home and his guest house, but this cowardly act did not discredit the honor of a sheikh who was dedicated to defending the dignity and honor of his city. Unipath met with Sheikh Khalid:
Unipath: Where were you during the fall of Mosul?
Sheikh Khalid: I was in the Salamiyah district of Mosul until the last moments on the night of October 6, 2014. I took my family and left Mosul at 3:30 a.m. from the Nimrud area to the district of Hamdania, which had not yet fallen into the hands of Daesh. I did so because I was wanted by terrorist organizations.
Unipath: Why was Daesh looking for you?
Sheikh Khalid: Since the emergence of terrorist organizations in Iraq in 2004, we knew their sick agenda and knew that they were murderers and criminals who came to Iraq under the pretext of “fighting the occupation” and “jihad” and “relieving Sunnis of injustice” — empty pretexts and slogans to achieve their agendas. The Nimrud region was a source of terrorist groups where their leaders were well-known, and strangely enough, they were not known for being pious. They were a mixture of officials of the former regime and an opportunistic group that was motivated by money or were outcasts in society. They allied themselves with a person named Mullah Mahdi known for his takfiri ideas and allegiance to Zarqawi. In a matter of weeks, Mahdi was transformed from an isolated takfiri into the branch leader of the terrorist organization Tawhid and Jihad with 150 Iraqi and Arab followers.
Unipath: You implied that Mahdi received outside money. Who was his financier?
Sheikh Khalid: As you know, there are regional countries that got involved, and Mahdi went to Syria for a time and returned loaded with money. We have confirmed this information.
Unipath: When did the tribes in Mosul begin armed confrontation against terrorism?
Sheikh Khalid: Our resistance to terrorism began in 2004, and I am proud of what I have done to save my city and my family from its dangers. We worked with the U.S. forces that were responsible for security at the time and the local police and Army in the city. We have done a great job of expelling the terrorist gangs. I have been subjected to dozens of assassination attempts, and more than 50 of my brothers and men have become martyrs from 2004 to 2014. Despite the pressure exerted by some politicians against the Awakening and the cessation of material support for us after the withdrawal of U.S. forces, we continued our work and didn’t allow the terrorist gangs to return, because we defend our dignity and the future of our children. There are many who decided to help terrorism at the cost of innocent blood, and in return the terrorists facilitated for them to leave Iraq and live in neighboring countries like princes. But we refused to aid those who killed our people, and we made sacrifices and achieved economic prosperity in our villages. Had we continued to hold the land in our villages after 2010, Daesh wouldn’t have occupied Mosul. But unfortunately we were let down by the unfair political deals of the previous government, especially those who benefited from sectarian discourse, which dragged the country into darkness.
Unipath: When did you take pre-emptive military action after the fall of Mosul?
Sheikh Khalid: After I left Mosul that night, I came to Baghdad with my family to secure their safety and be close to the decision-making centers in the capital. When the international coalition formed, I met U.S. Gen. John Allen in Baghdad. I was the only sheikh from Nineveh province in that meeting. The meeting was attended by Sheikh Wasfi al-Asi, Sheikh al-Obeid from Kirkuk, Sheikh Ali al-Burhan al-Azzawi from Diyala and Sheikh Rafie Abdul Karim al-Fahdawi from Ramadi and Sheikh Marwan al-Jabara from Salah al-Din. We started building an intelligence network of people who refused to submit to Daesh and could get accurate information about its movements and weapons sites inside the city. And I was in contact with our brothers in the Iraqi intelligence service, who in turn provided the Iraqi Air Force and coalition forces with information. This was the beginning of the long march to cleanse our cities from the filth of terrorism. Dozens of targets have been bombed based on the information we have provided. I am proud to say that we foiled more than one operation to break through to the besieged Bayji refinery at the time. We gave specific information about the movement of a Daesh column from Mosul en route to Bayji, which was destroyed by an airstrike before Daesh arrived. And we helped destroy many targets inside Mosul — the compounds, headquarters and weapons caches belonging to Daesh. I attended regular meetings with our friends in the international coalition in the Combined Joint Operations Command (CJOC).
Unipath: Did you participate as tribal forces in the battle to liberate Mosul?
Sheikh Khalid: We are honored to have actually participated with the 43rd Tribal Battalion, entering with the 9th Armored Division at the Kuwair crossing toward the Nimrud area southeast of Nineveh. There we merged with the Commando Regiment of the 15th Division and worked with Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah; Lt. Gen. Reyadh Jalal, commander of Iraqi Ground Forces, and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Dhyaa Al-Saidi; Lt. Gen. Qassem Nazzal, commander of the 9th Division; and Maj. Gen. Najem al-Jubouri, commander of Nineveh Operations. I am proud to have worked with professional and national leaders in the Iraqi Army.
Unipath: Was there a time when the presence of tribal men was decisive in determining the outcome of a battle?
Sheikh Khalid: In a village in the center of Nimrud city — an open area containing 800 houses — terrorists established a line of fire, dug tunnels, planted bombs, installed sniper nests and deployed suicide bombers to block the progress of troops. When the battle of liberation began in November, I was standing with Lt. Gen. Yarallah. We were about a kilometer and a half from the front lines. Because of the fierceness of the battle, the commandos suffered big losses and asked for reinforcements. But other units were already committed, and there was no force ready to respond. Lt. Gen. Yarallah asked me for help, and I was happy for this request. We entered the heart of the battle at 8 p.m. and dispersed among the military units there. Our presence boosted morale among the Soldiers when they noticed the Sons of Mosul supporting them to liberate the city. The battle was settled on the morning of the second day. Yarallah’s team personally thanked us, and the prime minister praised our battlefield exploits during a weekly press conference. We continued to fight until we entered the southeastern neighborhoods of the province such as the Al-Salam neighborhood and Al-Ansar. There we stopped fighting and were tasked with holding the liberated areas.
Unipath: How did your presence boost morale?
Sheikh Khalid: Because we are the sons of the city and know its roads and hideouts, we participated in the liberation of about 37 villages. Our fighters used to climb up on the tanks with the Soldiers and guide units toward the villages, directing the Soldiers to avoid some of the populated alleys. Tribal people possess better knowledge of villages than maps. So we participated with the planning team in mapping and preparing for the liberation of our regions and determining the best ways to enter the city. We have information about every house; we know the houses where terrorists were entrenched and where the innocent reside.
Unipath: At that time the situation was dangerous and it was difficult to know who your enemy was. How did you avoid recruiting a terrorist by mistake?
Sheikh Khalid: The first stage of recruitment was limited to displaced families, people who fled during Daesh’s entry into the city and were subjected to security checks. In the second stage, which raised many fears, we were aided by the fact that Daesh’s entry into villages unmasked its supporters and sympathizers. In our villages we know each other and know very well who joined Daesh and who was working as an informant. There were no secrets in this regard. On this basis, reliable people were chosen.
Unipath: Did security forces benefit from accurate information about the population during the security check in camps for internally displace people?
Sheikh Khalid: We have participated in the tracking and arrest of the remnants of the Daesh that hid among families. I worked directly with the leaders of the Ministry of the Interior when the security audit team arrived in the city of Alkayara with computers and coordinated with us to provide protection and a special place for the team. We left some tribesmen with the team at the main checkpoints and crossings to help security forces identify terrorists who arrived with false cards or were not registered in computers. We played a major role in directly identifying terrorists. Especially since there is direct contact between me and the tribal sheikhs in the city, sometimes we contact a sheikh and by our personal relationships we get enough information about the person. After the liberation of the right bank of the river and the opening of a floating bridge connecting it to the left bank, families arrived in the thousands and we managed to arrest hundreds of infiltrating terrorists. We also saved many people who were arrested because their names were similar to a terrorist’s. Because we knew the detainee personally and were sure that he did not deal with Daesh, we provided evidence and witnesses to our brothers in the security checks and saved the person from arrest. The families were grateful for the role we played.
Unipath: After the battles ended and security returned, are you still providing security in your areas?
Sheikh Khalid: At the beginning of the battles, we worked with our brothers in the liberation forces to complete searches and clearances to ensure there are no terrorists left. Then as we progressed toward other areas, we were tasked by CJOC to hold ground and protect the rear of the advancing forces. We held this ground for more than six months, maintaining security without any formal military presence. These villages had a bridge that was a major supply line for advancing forces. Daesh tried to attack us and cut off the road during the height of fighting on the right bank. We managed to spoil the plan, killing four of them in an exchange of fire. We repelled several attacks and maintained security of our areas during that period. Now we have high-level coordination with security forces to monitor and track sleeper cells and extend security.
Unipath: Children and widows lived under the thumb of terrorists. Has the tribe paid attention to these people?
Sheikh Khalid: We are Arab tribes, and our customs and traditions cannot allow the presence of a needy family or children starving. In my role as sheikh and within our villages, we recognize needy families, widows and orphans and provide them with everything they need. Our doors are always open to them. We give help to children who have been brainwashed or witnessed terrorists murdering people on the streets. Thankfully, this issue is under control in villages where tribes run things. We are looking to solve the problem of displaced people who are still in the camps. Yes, there are services and welfare from the state, but how long will they stay in the tents?
Unipath: Why did they not return to their homes with the rest of the displaced?
Sheikh Khalid: Some of them live in areas near the Syrian border where security is still fragile and the government has concerns about allowing citizens to return. Other families have relatives who joined Daesh and have committed crimes against civilians. And their hometowns do not allow them to return. Even we do not allow the families of those who have committed crimes in our villages to return. Of course, we have the flexibility to deal with families whose children were outside the control of the family. And a wife, children and tribe cannot be held accountable for their relatives who committed terrorist acts. But sometimes families were supportive and aided their sons to commit crimes themselves — these have no place among the tribes.
In the end, I would like to thank the international coalition, headed by the United States of America, which has saved us from Daesh and supported us by all means to liberate our lands from their abomination. They did an honorable job of arming, training and supporting our troops during the fighting.