Fighting in Tikrit in April
Hélène Sallon

TIKRIT â€" A line of vehicles has formed in front of the checkpoint at the southern entrance to Tikrit. The nine members of the Mouslah family, their personal goods and some food are stuffed into their overcrowded car. As policemen give instructions, the father, Nasser, fills out a form on the hood of the car while his children and wife wait under the shade of a tent. An hour later, he is given the precious paper, after the police and the intelligence services had verified that he was not on the list of those linked to ISIS, the Islamic State terror group.

After Tikrit's liberation on March 31, the jihadists have been pushed back 70 kilometers to the north, behind several defensive lines. But doubts remain about the identity of the men who helped ISIS conquer Saddam Hussein's former home territory in June 2014. Ten men had discovered with horror that their names appeared on the list of the terrorist group associates. “They are under investigation,” is all that Iraqi colonel Karim Salman, head of military intelligence of the Salaheddine district, will say.

More than 1,000 families who'd fled last year were welcomed back to Tikrit earlier this month. The authorities in Baghdad, dominated by Shiite parties, want to give off a positive message to the city's Sunnis ahead of planned assaults on another Sunni district, Anbar in western Iraq. This follows accusations of robbery and looting that tarnished the liberation of this Sunnite city of 175,000.

No more bombs nor explosives

The Shiite militia groups have left security of the city in the hands of local police and of a militia group formed by the Joubour Sunnite tribe. But the fighters belonging to Badr, Asaïb and Al-Haq or Kataeb Hezbollah Shiite militias still have ways of controlling the city. “It is suffocating to see all of those checkpoints, but it is maybe necessary to keep the city safe and to encourage families to come back," says Oum Aïcha, 29.

In early June, she returned with her husband, who was called to help fix Tikrit's electric grid. It is all very much a work-in-progress. “All the bombs and explosives have been removed. More than 80% of the city has running water and electricity,” says the city's mayor, Omar Al-Chandar. Some stores have reopened, but flour and gas are still in short supply.

At first glance, the desert landscape of Tikrit can be shocking for those who left nearly a year ago when the jihadists attacked the city. After a 10-month occupation and one month of fierce fighting, the former "Jewel of Saddam Hussein" on the shore of the Tigris River has all the scars of war: destroyed palaces and buildings, burned-out car chassis and looted stores.

Human representations painted in black on walls are a reminder of the recent presence of ISIS, while elsewhere Arabic graffiti glorifies the Imam Hussein and Persian slogans hail the Ayatollah celebrating the victory of Shiite militias and their Iranian ally.

In the neighborhood near the front-line, some people have found their home in ruins. Local authorities estimate that some 400 houses were destroyed. “My apartment's roof fell down. My goods were stolen or broken,” says Saad Attaoui, who is staying in a cousin's house with his wife and their seven children.

Even far from the combat zones, some people have found their homes in shambles. They assume they have been ransacked and robbed by ISIS as well as the Shiite militia groups.

Einam Mostafa, 55, who supports her husband and six children on her teacher's salary, was outraged by what she found upon returning. “We are happy to come back. A lot of people gave their lives for us. But look around: everything was stolen in the house. Fighters used our bed sheets and our drawers as a toilet,” she says in disgust.

Retaliations

Others still do not dare walk through the city, fearing they could be targeted in some intertribal vendetta. On the phone, Abou Ibrahim, a professor at Tikrit University, said he had become “embarrassing” for local authorities. They are “all from the Joubour tribe,” a “corrupted” tribe according to him. He belongs to the Abou Nasser clan, a fact that is far from insignificant: Abou Nasser is the tribe into which Saddam Hussein was born, hated by the Joubour as well as the Shiite militias, and accused of having helped ISIS and participated in the slaughter of some 1,700 draftees last June.

The way some tribe members act, and the passive neutrality of others, contribute to a looming menace for all. “Nobody from these two clans has been back in Tikrit yet," explains Ibrahim. "We fear retaliations, kidnappings and extortion. My house and my three brothers' houses were already destroyed.”

Negotiations are underway to allow for the safe return of innocent members of these tribes. But for now, much terrain remains abandoned. Ten kilometers to the south, in the small town of Al-Awja, where Saddam Hussein was born, Abou Ibrahim quips: “There once was a village called Awja.”

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Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the capital of Tunis

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Laphi!*

Welcome to Monday, where post-Merkel Germany looks set shift to a center-left coalition, San Marino and Switzerland catch up with the rest of Europe on two key social issues, and a turtle slows things down at a Japan airport. Meanwhile, we take an international look at different ways to handle beloved, yet controversial, comic books and graphic novels characters.

[*Aymara, Bolivia]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Social Democrats narrowly win German elections: Germany's center-left party claimed a narrow victory in the federal election, beating the CDU party of outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel by just over 1.5%, according to preliminary results. SPD leader Olaf Scholz has claimed a mandate to form a government with the Greens and Liberals, in what would be Germany's first three-way ruling coalition. Germany's capital city Berlin will also get its first female mayor.

Switzerland says yes to same-sex marriage: Nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters approved the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in a referendum, making it one of the last countries in Western Europe to do so.

San Marino voters back legal abortion: More than 77% voted in support of legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in San Marino in a historic referendum for the predominantly Catholic tiny city-state, which was one of the last places in Europe that still criminalized abortion.

COVID update: Australian authorities announced they will gradually reopen lockdowned Sydney, with a system that will give vaccinated citizens more freedom than the unvaccinated. Meanwhile, Thailand will waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and several other regions for vaccinated travellers in November. In Brazil, a fourth member of President Jair Bolsonaro's delegation to the United Nations has tested positive to COVID-19.

Power shortages in China spread: Tight coal supplies and toughening emissions standards have led to power shortages in northeastern China, forcing numerous factories including many supplying Apple and Tesla to halt production.

Strong earthquake hits Crete, at least one killed: An earthquake of magnitude 6 struck the Greek island of Crete, with reports that at least one person was killed and several injured after buildings collapsed.

Turtle causes delays at Tokyo airport: A wandering turtle forced the Tokyo Narita airport to close its runway for twelve minutes, delaying five planes, including an All Nippon Airways plane featuring ... a sea turtle-themed fuselage.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Neck and neck," titles German daily Augsburger Allgemeine about the tight results of the federal election, which according to preliminary results, is set to be won by the center-left party SPD led by Olaf Sholz by just over 1.5%. It was the country's tightest race in years, and will likely lead to long, complicated negotiations to form a coalition government.


💬  LEXICON

Magal

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims from Senegal, but also from elsewhere in Africa, Europe, and the United States, converged to the great Mosque of Touba, as part of the Grand Magal. The annual pilgrimage, a Wolof word meaning celebration, marks the date French colonial authorities exiled spiritual leader and founder of the Senegalese Mouride Brotherhood Sheikh Amadou Bamba.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Cancel Tintin? Spotting racist imagery in comics around the world

From the anti-Semitic children's books of Nazi Germany to the many racist caricatures of Asian, African or Indigenous people in the 20th century, comics have long contained prejudiced, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. These publications have been rightfully criticized but some are pushing back, saying that this kind of unwarranted "canceling" threatens freedom of expression. Here are examples from three countries around the world about how people are handling the debate and sketching the future of comics.

🔥📚 The Adventures of Tintin and The Adventures of Asterix both emerged in French-speaking Europe during the 20th century and quickly developed global audiences. But the comic books have also been called out for controversial depictions of certain groups, including North American Indigenous peoples. And as Radio-Canada recently reported, one group of French-speaking schools in Ontario found the texts so offensive that they decided to go ahead and burn the books. The report, not surprisingly, stirred up a pretty fiery debate on the issues of free speech and what some refer to as "cancel culture."

🤠 In a more progressive model for rethinking cartoons with long — and complicated — legacies, Lucky Luke in France is taking a different direction. Telling the story of a cowboy in the Wild West, the series is notably lacking in terms of diversity. But in 2020, well-known French cartoonists Julien Berjeaut (known as Jul) and Hervé Darmenton (known as Achdé) took on the challenge of a more inclusive Lucky Luke. With its 81st album, Un Cow-Boy Dans Le Coton (A Cowboy in High Cotton), they changed the perspective to focus on recently freed Black slaves.

🇯🇵 Outside of France and Belgium, Japan arguably has the largest market for graphic novels, or manga, which first developed in the late 19th century. And like their European counterparts, certain manga titles have been accused of using racist tropes. One example is the character Mr. Popo, a genie from the popular Dragon Ball series who has been cited for having offensive features. In the meantime, more and more mangaka (creators of manga) are expanding beyond these traditional representations, including in their depictions of women, who are over-sexualized in many mangas.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Still now, I am terrified."

— In mid-August, Afghan news anchor Beheshta Arghand interviewed Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a high-ranking Taliban representative, for TOLOnews. A historic moment for the female presenter, just days after the Islamic fundamentalist group took over Afghanistan. Now exiled in Albania, Arghand tells the BBC in a moving testimony why she had to flee to Albania and how she, like many in her country, has lost everything.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin, Clémence Guimier & Bertrand Hauger


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