MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - If you want to hear the resentment people of Mosul feel now that Iraqi forces have driven Islamic State out of most of the city, you should talk to Saddam Hussein.
Not the dictator, but the Mosul schoolteacher, who proudly shows off an identity card bearing the name which his parents gave him in the ruler’s honor 45 years ago, and which he passed on to his sons.
The original Saddam, a Sunni Muslim who was toppled in a U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and hanged three years later on an Iraqi army base for crimes against humanity, is a hate figure to the Shi‘ites who make up the majority of Iraqis, violently repressed under his rule.
But here in Mosul, where most people are Sunnis who feel disrespected by the authorities in Baghdad, he is still beloved, just one example of the many ways in which the local narrative veers sharply from that of most of the rest of the country.
“My name is Saddam and all three of my sons are called Saddam, because I love him,” said the teacher. “Saddam was the best leader Iraq has ever had.”
When Islamic State fighters swept into Mosul in 2014, supporters of the ousted leader were among those who welcomed the Sunni militants as protectors against the Shi‘ite authorities. A group of ex-Saddam era military officers pledged support for the Islamic State caliphate.
Most residents of Mosul turned against the militants during their two years of harsh rule, and the teacher said he never supported them. But few here trust the central authorities that have now returned.
The teacher lost his salary under Islamic State when Baghdad stopped sending money to pay wages of government workers in territory held by the militants. Like many in Mosul, he is now embroiled in a long vetting process to get back on the payroll, which he considers discriminatory and unfair.
When fighting reached his district, he fled with his family to a U.N. camp. He has now come back to his old home, but the landlord is evicting him. With no salary, he has no way to pay rent. The family will soon be homeless, with nowhere to go but back to the camp.
“I have lost everything. I can’t feed my family anymore,” he said. “I can’t pay my rent anymore but I don’t want to move with my family to a camp again. I‘m really tired of this life.”
The biggest land battle in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, the battle to free Mosul of Islamic State is now in its seventh month. Much of the city has been fully under government control since late last year, yet there is no water and no electricity.
The authorities have put up new billboards with pictures of the city’s landmarks or the Tigris river, and messages such as: “Dear citizens, we urge you to get back to your daily life.”
But beneath them, the walls bear Shi‘ite religious slogans spray painted by government troops, which Sunni residents say makes them feel like they are living under occupation.
“Politics are dominated by sectarian and political groups,” said Wael Faisal, an electronics seller, referring to the graffiti. “We haven’t any development projects from Baghdad in Mosul since 2003.”
With salaries still going unpaid, families are forced to beg for food at mosques. More than 100 former state prison workers gathered in eastern Mosul on Wednesday complaining they had not been paid for up to six months.
“We have no water and power. This is the political corruption we have been suffering from,” said Faisal.
Many now say that the conditions will create the breeding ground for yet another radical group in Mosul, which became a center for the Sunni insurgency after the U.S.-led invasion.
“I think the future will be worse because the central government will again not care about Mosul,” said Farnas Talib, a light bulb shop owner in eastern Mosul, which was declared “fully liberated” in January.
“What is Daesh?” he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “Daesh came because of a lack of interest from Baghdad in Mosul. Unless this changes there will be another group, with a different name, different people, maybe no beards.”
An aide to the governor of the Nineveh province of which Mosul is the capital said authorities were working non-stop.
“We have restarted power in some areas for some hours and it will gradually improve further,” he said. “We are also restoring water, but some parts of the system got damaged.”
“We are working day and night to serve citizens but our possibilities are limited because support from Baghdad is very limited. We need more support,” he said.
Editing by Peter Graff