Mosul has been a rich city for more than a thousand years. It sits across the river Tigris on the ancient caravan route between India and the Mediterranean and is surrounded by rich agricultural land. Its shops are piled high with vegetables, fruit, nuts, sweetmeats, cheese and yoghurt.
My Information Ministry escort, Mohammad, and driver, Omar, who are both from Baghdad, spent a fair part of the time in Mosul shopping because there was so much to buy and prices were lower than at home.
Mohammad's wife had exploded at him the night before we left Baghdad because he was going away for two of the four days of the Eid, so he started the trip complaining. But he brightened up when he found a handstitched blanket for 6,500 dinars ($5.00) which he thought might placate his wife. He also stocked up on mixed nuts and two two-kilo plastic bags of yoghurt. In the end, he ran through almost all his money, had to borrow 3,000 dinars off me and started worrying his wife would be cross about how much he'd spent.
Omar bought a doll for one of his daughters, yoghurt and balls of white cheese. I've already got 52 kilos of luggage and had to argue my way onto the plane at London airport, so I didn't buy anything but I wish I could have.
There's an old centre to Mosul with narrow, shady alleys of mud-plastered houses but much of the city consists of prosperous looking suburbs with large, square concrete houses surrounded by walled gardens. Many of the older houses have 'for sale' notices painted on the garden walls, but there are also plenty of new houses being built, some of them extravagant mansions with dramatic balconies and pilastered entrances.
"It's Europe!" Mohammad and Omar kept crying each time we turned a corner on the elevated highway and saw another vista of green riverbank, or drove across a bridge and smelt water and grass on the evening air. I have to say it's not quite Switzerland... but then, Switzerland's not been been ruled for the last 30 years by Saddam Hussein.