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Arabic: تلعفر or تل عفر
Tal Afar (pronounced /ta.la.fer/) (also Tal'Afar, Tal Afar, Tall Afar, Tell Afar, Tel Afar) (in Arabic: تلعفر or تل عفر, in Turkish: Telafer) is a city and district in northwestern Iraq in the Ninawa Governorate located approximately 30 miles west of Mosul and 120 miles north west of Kirkuk.
While no official census data exists, the city which had been assessed to have a population of approximately 200,000, had dropped to 80,000 as of 2007, nearly all of whom are Iraqi Turkmen. In Tal’Afar itself, the population is mostly Turkomen, about 75 percent of whom were Sunni Muslims, while a quarter were Shi’ites. While most residents speak Arabic, a dialect of Turkomen is regularly used throughout the city.
10 kilometres (6.2 mi) southwest of the town of Tal Afar are the mounds of Yarim Tepe which yielded remains from the Halafian culture from the Hassuna, Halaf and Ubaid periods, between 7,000 and 4,500 BC.
Tel Afar has been thought to be a city mentioned in the Bible, Telassar or Thela'sar, mentioned in 2 Kings 19:12 and in Isaiah 37:12 as a city inhabited by "the children of Eden" which had been conquered and was held at the time of the Sennacherib by the Assyrians.
Austen Henry Layard visited Tal Afar and wrote about his experience there in several of his books. In Nineveh and its remains published in 1867, Layard writes:
|“||Tel Afer was once a town of some importance ; it is mentioned by the early Arab geographers, and may perhaps be identified with the Telassar of Isaiah, referred to, as it is, in connection with Gozan and Haran. It has been three times besieged, within a few years, by Ali Pasha of Baghdad, Hafiz Pasha, and Injeh Bairakdar Mohammed Pasha. On each occasion the inhabitants offered a vigerous resistance. Mohammed Pasha took the place by assault. More than two-thirds of the inhabitants were put to the sword, and the property of the remainder was confiscated. Great wealth is said to have been discovered in the place, on its pillage by Mohammed Pasha, who took all the gold and silver, and distributed the remainder of the spoil amongst his soldiers.||”|
“After Hafiz Pasha’s expedition in 1837 Tall ‘Afar was occupied permanently by Turkish troops and started to be used as a base to control the movements of a number of the Yazidi tribes of eastern Sinjar. In the 1880s Tall ‘Afar became an administrative unit depending on the Sinjar qadha.” 
Sometime during the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman Turkish Army founded the city as a sole military outpost constructed on top of a hill. Remains of the fortress can still be seen today. Also garrisoned at the fortress were Turkmen members of the Daloodi tribe who following the withdrawal of the Ottoman Army became the first civilian occupants of the town build around the fortress.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Tal Afar was included in Iraq.
- Tal Afar is located at coordinate 36°23′N 42°27′E
- According to map data, Tal Afar has a total area of 15 km²
- Tal Afar is located approximately 30 miles west of Mosul.
- Tal Afar is located approximately 60 km (37 mi) east of the Iraqi-Syrian border.
The city is located in an open desert plain at the southern base of the Aedea Mountains. Much of the terrain surrounding the city is flat desert. A major east-west highway runs through the city, which spans the Ninawa Governorate and intersects Iraq’s main central north-south highway near Mosul.
Tal Afar is organized into eighteen neighborhoods or districts. They are: Sa'ad, Qadisiyah, Todd A-O, Sarai, Mohalemeen, Madlomin, Uruba, Wahada, Nida, A'a lot, Hassan Qoi, Mothana, Khadra, Jazeera, Taliha, Kifah, Malain and Qalah. Each neighborhood is able to maintain its identity due to the tribal nature of the city. Several dozen extended families living in close proximity will typically identify with one local sheik who takes it upon himself to serve as steward of neighborhood’s citizens and liaison to the local government. The layout of the town consists of densely-packed buildings often constructed so closely to each other that they share common load-bearing walls and supports. The city streets further physically define each neighborhood by separating it from other groups of buildings since they cut through the town in irregular patterns.
Demographically, Tal Afar is isolated from many of the surrounding towns and villages because of its Iraqi Turkmen population. Many persons to the west identify themselves as Yezidi and to the south and east Arab.
As of January 2007, the largest single employer in the city was the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior which has hired roughly 2,250 policemen. The second-largest employer is the United States government. The 101st Airborne 3rd Brigade was stationed at Tal Afar Airbase in 2003-04 and its 1st Battalion was stationed in the town proper.
Important industries in the region include agriculture, especially the harvesting of wheat which historically has been processed at the city’s state-run granary, and the production of cement and macadam.
Unemployment was estimated to be at levels as high as 80% as of August 2006.
There is only one hospital in Tal-Afar which is Tal-Afar General Hospital in addition to Tal-Afar Health Sector which includes 6 health centres (clinics) inside Tal-Afar, and other clinics in the periphery.
Located in the center of the city are the remnants of what is believed to be an Ottoman Empire fortress or castle. Local history states that British administrators augmented the structure of the original fortress. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the fortress was further augmented and made to house the city’s mayoral, municipal and police headquarters.
The neighborhood including and surrounding the fortress is known as Qalah (phonetic) or “Castle”.
Culture and society
Many residents identify themselves as Iraqi Turkmen and share many similarities with Azeri culture. Strong family ties exist between residents of the city and relatives in Turkey.
Cuisine found in the city is similar to meals prepared in Arab/Turkish culture including unseasoned grilled lamb and beef, unleavened bread, rice, vegetable-based soups and indigenous vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, raisins, cucumbers, etc.
Approximately twenty families live in the city whom identify themselves as Kurdish or Yezidi.
Politics and government
Tal Afar’s local government consists of a city council, local sheiks and a mayor. The mayor is appointed by the council of sheiks and confirmed by the provincial regional administrator. The mayor need not be originally from the city nor Iraqi Turkmen. As of January 2007, the present mayor (and former General) is Mayor Najim, a Sunni Arab originally from Baghdad. His wife, notably, is a Shia Arab.
The Iraqi Turkmen demographic of Tal Afar and its geographic location have made it an important city in the argument of Iraqi federalism. Historically, the area in the vicinity of the city was populated by Kurds and considered part of Kurdistan. Following a program of “Arabization” initiated by Saddam Hussein in the 1970s, large numbers of Sunni Arabs supportive of the Baathist government were moved into areas around Tal Afar in an effort to decrease the influence of Iraqi Kurds. Geographically, the region the city is located in a border area separating Kurdish lands to the north and Arab lands to the south in the al-Anbar province.
Were it not for the high population of Iraqi Turkmen, the region would most likely be absorbed by the Kurdish Autonomous Region based in Arbil. Many Iraqi Turkmen resist this happening because of historic differences with the Kurds.
Role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Operation Black Typhoon
On September 9, 2004, a major military operation was launched against Tal Afar by the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) and Iraqi Security forces. Fighting continued until September 12, 2004 when the government of Turkey claimed that the fighting had taken the lives of approximately 58 ethnic Turkmen civilians and demanded an end to military operations at which time the civilians camped outside Tal Afar were allowed to return to their homes. American forces defeated the insurgents and left about 500 troops in the city. However, Iraqi authorities lost control of the city in May 2005, and insurgents began taking over again. A military operation in June 2005 did not quell the violence.
On the 8th and 10 December 2004, an Australian Army patrol, 3 Troop, a squadron of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, and members of the Australian Army Training Team - 2 (AATTI-2) was ambushed by insurgents using small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. A firefight between the two forces broke out resulting in KIAs and WIAs to the Iraqi resistance and no injuries or damage to the Australian patrol.
Operation Restoring Rights
In September 2005, Operation Restoring Rights was conducted in which approximately 5,000 soldiers from the 3rd Division of the Iraqi Security Force in conjunction with 3,500 troops from the U.S. Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division entered the city. The operation resulted in 157 insurgents being killed and 683 captured. Iraqi Security Forces suffered 12 killed and 27 wounded. The operation lasted until October and resulted in 10,000 pounds of explosives being uncovered and destroyed. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi accused the American military of using "poisonous gases" on Tal Afar in an audiotape received and posted on an Islamic website. The United States denied using chemical weapons in Tal Afar saying such the reports were propaganda created by Abu-Mus’ab al-Zarqawi and were false and without merit. There was an incident in which US troops wore gas masks after discovering chlorine-based chemicals.
The operation tested a new strategy of "clear, hold, build", in which areas would be purged of insurgents and then occupied and then rebuilt to win support from local people before being handed over to the Iraqi security forces. An ambitious reconstruction effort was immediately implemented. New sewers were dug and the fronts of shops, destroyed in the assault, were replaced within weeks. Numerous police stations were built or rebuilt in the town by an Anglo-American construction team led by Huw Thomas.
In March 2006, U.S. President George W. Bush pointed to Tal Afar as a success story, where one could "see the outlines of the Iraq we've been fighting for". The operation was considered one of the first successful counterinsurgency operations in Iraq. Colonel H.R. McMaster, commander of the operation became an advisor to General David Petraeus in the planning and execution of the 2007 troop surge.
However, after years of intermittent violence, some commentators have said that the optimism expressed in 2005 was overstated.
Tal Afar checkpoint shooting incident
On January 18, 2005, a Turkoman family of eight were travelling in a car which failed to stop at a US checkpoint in Tal Afar. US troops opened fire, killing both parents, Camille and Hussein Hassan, and injuring their five children sitting in the back seat. Racan, 11, was seriously wounded in the abdomen. He lost the use of his legs and was treated later in Boston. Getty Images photographer Chris Hondros, who was on the scene, took graphic pictures of the shooting and aftermath. Hondros won several awards for the still photos.
In October 2006, a bombing in Tal Afar killed 14 people, of whom ten were civilians and four Iraqi soldiers. An additional bombing, outside a car dealership, on November 24, 2006, killed at least 22 and wounded at least 26.
On February 10, 2007 a suicide car bomber killed one Iraqi soldier and wounded five people, including three civilians, as it targeted an army checkpoint.
On February 22, 2007 four people were killed, including a policeman and a 12 year-old boy, and five were wounded, including two policemen, when two booby-trapped houses detonated while police were searching homes. During the search, a policeman shot and killed a suspect and wounded two others. Police had already reported the death of one policeman.
On March 24, 2007 a suicide bomber in a market in the town of Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq killed eight people and wounded 10.
On March 27, 2007, a truck bomb exploded in a market in a Shiite area. It was first reported to have killed 83 people and wounded 183, but the Iraqi Interior Ministry later raised the death toll to 152 and said that 347 were wounded, which would make it the deadliest single strike since the war started. The explosion, for which a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda claimed responsibility, led to reprisal shootings by Shiite policemen and others against Sunnis, in which between 47 and 70 men were killed. Several Shiite policemen were arrested for taking part in the shootings.
On April 14, 2007 a sniper shot dead a woman.
On May 21, 2007, a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol, wounding three policemen on the main road between the town of Sinjar and Tal Afar.
On May 31, 2007, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded four policemen on the road between Sinjar and Tal Afar. In a separate incident a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed an officer and wounded another soldier in Tal Afar. In another separate incident a man was killed in a rocket attack.
On June 11, 2007 two people were killed and five wounded by a Katyusha rocket attack.
On June 19, 2007 a woman and a child were killed by a mortar attack in the town of Tal Afar.
On July 12, 2007, seven guests celebrating the wedding of an Iraqi policeman were killed on Thursday by a suicide bomber.
On July 15, 2007 two civilians were killed and three wounded by a roadside bomb.
On August 6, 2007, a car bomb killed 27 and wounded 28 people in the village of al-Guba near Tal Afar.
On August 22, 2007, a roadside bomb exploded near workers laying water pipes, killing two and wounding five.
On September 16, 2007 at least two policemen were wounded by a roadside bomb in the centre of the town.
On September 22, 2007 one insurgent was killed and another wounded when a bomb they were making exploded.
On September 24, 2007 a suicide truck bomb killed at least six people, including two policemen and a soldier, and wounded 17 in an attack on a checkpoint near a village between Tal Afar and Mosul.
On October 4, 2007, a suicide car bomber killed three people and wounded 57 in a market.
On October 10, 2007 a Katyusha rocket landed on a house, killing five members of the same family and wounding five others.
On December 29, 2007 police killed five insurgents and detained five others.
On January 3, 2008 two civilians, including one child, died when U.S. forces returned fire after a roadside bomb struck a convoy that included the police chief.
On February 15, 2008 at least three people were killed and 16 wounded in a double suicide bombing. After a police officer guarding a mosque prevented a bomber from entering the building, the attacker tried to throw a hand grenade and then detonated the explosive vest he was wearing. A few minutes later, another bomber ran toward a group of worshipers and blew himself up as police opened fire.
On February 20, 2008 a suicide car bomber killed a woman and a 6-year-old girl and wounded eight in an attack on an identity cards office.
On March 2, 2008 clashes between gunmen and police killed 13 gunmen and two policemen in a village near the town of Tal Afar.
On April 14, 2008 an attacker wearing a suicide vest blew himself up at a Shi'ite funeral, killing four civilians and wounding 22.
On May 27, 2008 four people were killed and 46 wounded, including two children, when a parked car bomb blew up in a market the town's mayor, Major-General Najim Abdullah said.
On July 8, 2008 gunmen killed a member of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic party, police said.
On July 12, 2008 police found the bodies of seven people, including a woman and a child, the town's mayor, Major-General Najim Abdullah, said. They had been kidnapped two days before.
On July 17, 2008 a car bomb exploded in a street market killing 20 people, including 9 children, and wounding 90.
On July 31, 2008 a roadside bomb killed a policeman, police said.
On August 29, 2008 policemen killed a would-be suicide bomber who tried to enter a mosque.
On September 6, 2008 a car bomb exploded near shops and cafes killing at least six people and wounding at least 50.
On September 17, 2008 a roadside bomb wounded four civilians.
On September 18, 2008 two roadside bombs wounded nine civilians.
On September 20, 2008 a suicide car bomb attack near a football playground killed two people and left 18 wounded.
On November 15, 2008 a car bomb exploded and killed 10 people and injured 31 more.
On December 2, 2008 a suicide car bomb exploded at a police checkpoint killing five people and wounding 30.
On February 6, 2009 gunmen in a moving car opened fire and killed two civilians, police said.
On March 23, 2009 a suicide bomber killed an off-duty police officer and wounded five civilians, according to police.
On September 17, 2009 a suicide bomber drove a truck into a police checkpoint, killing three civilians and wounding three policeman.
On September 28, 2009, two suspected insurgents were killed and a third was wounded in an explosives accident.
On October 16, 2009, a gunman opened fire and then detonated a suicide belt, killing 15 and injuring 100 during Friday Prayer inside the Taqua Mosque, which is attended primarily by Sunni Muslims.
On Friday, 14 May 2010, an attacker detonated explosives hidden inside a vehicle at the entrance to the football stadium in Tal Afar that killed 10 people and injured 120 others. Earlier, the militant umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq, warned Shiites of "dark days soaked with blood". "What is happening to you nowadays is just a drizzle," said Al-Nasser Lideen Allah Abu Suleiman, the group's so-called minister of war.
On March 7, 2012, at least 12 people were killed in a coordinated car-bombing and suicide bombing attack.
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- Tal Afar Airbase
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- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, Feb 10 (Reuter)
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- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, March 24 (Reuters)
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- Deadliest bomb in Iraq war kills 152, Reuters, April 1, 2007
- Iraq Says Truck Bomb in North Killed 152, New York Times, April 1, 2007
- Police accused in sectarian revenge killings, CNN, March 29, 2007
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- FACTBOX: Security developments in Iraq, May 21 (Reuters)
- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, May 31 (Reuters)
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- FACTBOX: Security developments in Iraq, June 19 (Reuters)
- Seven killed by suicide bomber at Iraqi wedding (Reuters)
- FACTBOX: Security developments in Iraq, July 15 (Reuters)
- Iraq Car Bombing Kills 27 Near Northwestern City of Tal Afar (bloomberg)
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- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, Jan 3
- Attacks with Iranian-made bombs fall off in Iraq (IHT)
- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, Jan 19 (reuters
- U.S. Forces Accused of Killing Relatives of Iraqi Ally
- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, Feb 20 (Reuters)
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- Attacks kill up to 18 in northern Iraq (Reuters)
- FACTBOX - Security developments in Iraq (Reuters)
- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, July 8
- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, July 12
- Blast Kills 20 in Shiite Neighborhood of Northern Iraq City (NYT)
- FACTBOX: Security developments in Iraq, July 31 (Reuters)
- Death toll rises to 25 from Iraqi market bombing (AP via Google)
- Car bomb kills 21 in Iraq market (BBC)
- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, Aug 29
- Car Bombing Kills at Least 6 in City in Northwestern Iraq (NYT)
- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, Sept 17 (Reuters)
- FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, Sept 18 (Reuters)
- Suicide bombing kills 2, wounds 18 in N Iraq (Xinhuanet)
- (Al Jazeera)
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- Iraq town of Tal Afar hit by twin attacks (BBC)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Tal Afar|
- Iraq Image - Tal Afar Satellite Observation
- "Troops blitz Iraq's 'funnel of death'" (The Daily Telegraph, Sept. 11, 2005)
- "Iraqis in former rebel stronghold now cheer American soldiers" (The Daily Telegraph, Dec. 19, 2005)
- "Bomber attacks 'model Iraqi city'" (BBC News, Oct. 7, 2006)
- Hondros, Chris (January 19 2005). A shooting after nightfall. Newsday. http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/ny-wocheck0120,0,532599.story?coll=ny-world-big-pix.
- Chittister, Joan (January 28 2005). "What the Rest of the World Watched on Inauguration Day". National Catholic Reporter. http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0128-35.htm.
- Packer, George (April 10 2006). "The Lesson of Tal Afar". The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/04/10/060410fa_fact2.
- TIME Magazine Photo Essay of Operation Restoring Rights
- District map of Tal Afar
- Tall 'Afar at Global Security