Iraq's battered Mosul marks first spring festival in 16 years

Mosul (Iraq) (AFP) –


Some 10 months after the Islamic State group was driven out of Mosul, residents in the war-scarred Iraqi city are marking their first traditional spring festival in years.

Banners in the jihadists' former Iraqi capital now proclaim that "spring has returned to Mosul" as the celebrations are held for the first time since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Cardboard floats representing famous landmarks, including the city's famed minaret destroyed in the fight with the jihadists, paraded in the streets to the accompaniment of patriotic songs.

Young girls in pink and white dresses danced in front of a small crowd as men in traditional outfits or military uniforms marched by.

The spring festivities in the millennia-old city were launched back in 1969 under the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein, but they have their origins in the rites of the ancient Assyrians who once ruled.

"The last festival took place in 2002" under the watch of senior Baath Party officials, said this year's organiser Shamel Mohammed Dhaker.

The violent upheaval unleashed by the US-led overthrow of the former dictator forced the festival into a deep hibernation and saw jihadists rise to prominence in Mosul, nicknamed the city "of two springs".

Akram Ahmed, 54, watched a float heralding the city as the "paradise of Iraq" pass by with his four children.

"I came back every year in the 1970s and 1980s," he told AFP.

"It was a major celebration that we would wait for for ages."

Local governor Nawfel Sultan said from a stage that the return of the festivities "sends a message to the entire world that Nineveh (province) is returning to life."

But with people still struggling to rebuild their lives and the historical centre of Mosul in ruins after the ferocious fight to turf out IS, not everyone was in the mood to celebrate.

Streets remain devastated, corpses are still rotting under the rubble and unexploded ordnance poses a constant threat.

"People have lost their houses and all their possessions and the state has not given them any compensation," said 26-year-old Amr Ismail.

"It would have been better to just hand out the money spent on all this to the affected families."