Mosul Hotel Catered To Elites: From Saddam Allies To Suicide Bombers

Mosul Hotel Catered To Elites: From Saddam Allies To Suicide Bombers

When Islamic State (ISIS) seized the five-star Ninewah Oberoi Hotel in east Mosul in 2014 it replaced wealthy Iraqi patrons with another kind of elite -- foreign fighters and suicide bombers seen as the group's most prized members.

The Iraqi army's recent capture of the ruined compound - renamed Hotel Waritheen (Inheritors) by ISIS - dealt a blow to the militants, depriving them of a strategic site that offers a comprehensive view across the vast city.

Still, the 11-story structure is a reminder of the many dangers and uncertainties ahead as Iraqi forces prepare to expand their offensive against ISIS into west Mosul, a far more complex battleground.

The compound, with its abandoned playground and ferris wheel, is within striking distance of ISIS snipers and mortar bomb operators, dug in just across the Tigris River, which once soothed hotel guests standing on balconies.

That reality is not lost on Iraqi soldiers who walk into the hotel rooms on high floors seeking to spot enemy positions in the west just across the waterway, which bisects Mosul.

Curtains are peppered with bullet holes, the work of ISIS marksmen. Iraqi security officials say the most lethal ones are foreign fighters, the kind that were put up in the hotel as a reward for their services.

It was never meant to be this way.

The original 265-room hotel, built in the 1980s, catered to the powerful during Saddam Hussein's rule, including military officers, government officials and businessmen rewarded for their loyalty to his Baath Party.

One of his former palaces, located on an island on the Tigris, was demolished in recent fighting. Another one nearby suffered a similar fate.

ISIS grabbed the hotel after it swept into Mosul in 2014, facing virtually no resistance from Iraqi troops, and imposed a reign of terror. Unlike the old days, alcohol was not allowed.

Footage of the hotel appeared on a jihadi website showing militants with their wives, covered from head to toe in black, and children at the property, once described on the internet as "elegantly designed to offer comprehensive 5 star services".

Old photographs on internet advertisements show elegant suites with king-sized beds, conference rooms, a sprawling swimming pool, shopping arcade and bowling alley, in sharp contrast to the current destruction.

A rocket-propelled grenade and broken glass clutter the entrance to the health club, where the sauna and jacuzzi lay in ruins.

Nearby, pain killers and needles used by jihadist fighters before and after battle are scattered beside broken glass.

One soldier, who asked not to be named, studied shredded furniture and chairs piled on top of each other on lower floors, seeking clues on how ISIS operated in the hotel.

"Conferences were held on that floor. The Daesh leadership must have held meetings there to discuss strategy," he said. Daesh is a derogatory acronym used by opponents to describe ISIS.

ISIS had its own price list for the hotel restaurant and coffee shop displayed on plastic simple menus. Capuccino sold for the equivalent of about $1.

Beds were missing from the hotel rooms. Iraqi soldiers said militants sold them in the market as their self-proclaimed caliphate began collapsing under the pressure of the offensive, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

ISIS leaders, for their part, did their best to keep up morale, judging by a copy of their local propaganda newspaper left behind at the hotel. Front page headlines claim operations killed hundreds of Iraqi troops.

Another highlights the Istanbul nightclub attack.

There are no signs the hotel will be revived anytime soon, with fierce fighting expected in west Mosul.

Even if ISIS is defeated in all of Mosul, the group is expected to stage an insurgency in Iraq, a country that has suffered from dictatorships, wars and sectarian violence that have ruined many ventures like the hotel.

The latest occupants, Iraqi soldiers, seem to have written it off as a lost cause, leaving styrofoam plates of rotting meat and rice on the floors of decimated rooms for weeks. In some areas, there were human feces.

Soldiers have far more pressing issues to worry about, like militants watching them from just across the Tigris, with mortar attacks and gunfire keeping eastern Mosul on edge.

The only people wearing hotel slippers these days are Iraqi forces clutching assault rifles.