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15:04

Iraq: Fear and devastation plague Mosul one year after liberation

July 21, 2018 at 01:50 GMT +00:00 · Published

In 2016, Iraqi forces backed by firepower of the US-led coalition descended on the embattled city of Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city and the largest ever to fall into the hands of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS; formerly ISIL/ISIS).

The battle which followed the Mosul offensive began on 16 October 2016 and lasted for nearly nine months. Described by Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander of the Combined Joint Taskforce as the “toughest urban combat that has probably been fought since WWII,” the final battle to liberate the city ended on 21 July 2017, although Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had already proclaimed its liberation ten days earlier.

As Mosul marks the first anniversary of its liberation, daily life struggles for its locals prevail, with many living in fear that IS is slowly making a comeback.

According to the UN more than 1 million people remain displaced, with a majority of them finding shelter in 12 refugee camps set up in the surrounding area. Many of the camps’ residents refuse to return to their homes still, fearing they will be hunted down by IS.

On the road between Erbil and Mosul, the Hasan Sham camp is home to more than 1,000 tents, enough to shelter about 6,000 people, according to UNHCR estimates.

Zahida Ali, one of the camp’s residents, left Al-Shirqat four years ago. She moved to Mosul before becoming displaced and now refuses to go back to Mosul as some of her relatives had joined IS and she is afraid she could become a target herself.

Abu Yasi lives there with his wife and five children. Their house was in west Mosul. Days before returning to the camp for the second time, his cousin was beheaded by IS fighters.

“If I go back, who would protect me and my family? They would just come over and slaughter me and my family. I am forced to stay in the camp, and tolerate the heat, just so as to protect their lives”.

Meanwhile, military operations continue on a daily basis with the aim of capturing IS remnants, unearthing tunnels and finding weaponry and ammunition hidden in the surrounding deserts.

"We receive tens of phone calls on a daily basis, with people leading us to sleeper cells or guiding us to IS elements appearing anywhere," Nineveh operations commander Major General Najmi Al-Juhuri said.

Al-Juhuri didn’t discard fears expressed by Abu Yasir and other displaced Mosul residents: “There are few IS sleeper cells hiding in places such as the desert, the jungles, in islands of the Tigris River, and some hiding amongst civilians.”

Mosul’s once economic centre, the Old City, now bears a closer resemblance to a mass cemetery.

A few metres from the turquoise dome and the destroyed minaret of the al-Nuri mosque where the head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, pronounced his first and last public sermon in July 2014, Mohammed Qadir, internally displaced in Mosul, recounted how he watched his daughter die in a strike that destroyed his house.

Qadir now lives in a one-room house with his wife and three kids. He cannot come back to the house where they were living before the operation for the liberation of the city because it’s a pile of ruins. “My daughter was killed there”. In memory of Zubaida, 18 years old, killed by a mortar shell, a teddy bear is lying down on the same place where the girl used to sleep. “She went to the toilet and a mortar fell down, one of her feet was on the roof of our neighbour's house”, Qadir says.

In temperatures that reach 50 degrees, the operations to retrieve badly decomposed bodies from under the rubble have stopped and the smell of death is pervasive around the Old City of Mosul.

The stench from dead bodies still hangs over the city, despite government efforts to clear the rubble. “There are four more bodies in that house behind us. They are still inside. The stench coming from them is very strong. Our children are getting sick because of this”, says Qadir while a group of children shouting “Daesh Daesh” throw stones towards the decomposing body of an IS fighter.

Meanwhile, the threats of death or maiming remain, as unexploded ordnance is still hidden under a sea of debris. The inhabitants of the Old City face these dangers every day, which is why NGOs have placed several boards and posters advising the local population to not touch any suspicious item.

According to initial assessments by UNESCO, some 20,000 buildings were destroyed as the city’s 15 neighbourhoods were razed to the ground. As coalition airstrikes took a toll on all five bridges along the Tigris River, only three have since been reconstructed, and as UNESCO stated: “the level of destruction is unmatched since the Second World War.”

One year after the liberation, the city’s reconstruction is moving at a slow pace. People are helping each other clean the streets, rebuilding what can still be saved and small shops are opening in the Old city. People are trying to go back to normal life, but images of devastation make it difficult to imagine this happening anytime soon.

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Description

In 2016, Iraqi forces backed by firepower of the US-led coalition descended on the embattled city of Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city and the largest ever to fall into the hands of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS; formerly ISIL/ISIS).

The battle which followed the Mosul offensive began on 16 October 2016 and lasted for nearly nine months. Described by Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander of the Combined Joint Taskforce as the “toughest urban combat that has probably been fought since WWII,” the final battle to liberate the city ended on 21 July 2017, although Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had already proclaimed its liberation ten days earlier.

As Mosul marks the first anniversary of its liberation, daily life struggles for its locals prevail, with many living in fear that IS is slowly making a comeback.

According to the UN more than 1 million people remain displaced, with a majority of them finding shelter in 12 refugee camps set up in the surrounding area. Many of the camps’ residents refuse to return to their homes still, fearing they will be hunted down by IS.

On the road between Erbil and Mosul, the Hasan Sham camp is home to more than 1,000 tents, enough to shelter about 6,000 people, according to UNHCR estimates.

Zahida Ali, one of the camp’s residents, left Al-Shirqat four years ago. She moved to Mosul before becoming displaced and now refuses to go back to Mosul as some of her relatives had joined IS and she is afraid she could become a target herself.

Abu Yasi lives there with his wife and five children. Their house was in west Mosul. Days before returning to the camp for the second time, his cousin was beheaded by IS fighters.

“If I go back, who would protect me and my family? They would just come over and slaughter me and my family. I am forced to stay in the camp, and tolerate the heat, just so as to protect their lives”.

Meanwhile, military operations continue on a daily basis with the aim of capturing IS remnants, unearthing tunnels and finding weaponry and ammunition hidden in the surrounding deserts.

"We receive tens of phone calls on a daily basis, with people leading us to sleeper cells or guiding us to IS elements appearing anywhere," Nineveh operations commander Major General Najmi Al-Juhuri said.

Al-Juhuri didn’t discard fears expressed by Abu Yasir and other displaced Mosul residents: “There are few IS sleeper cells hiding in places such as the desert, the jungles, in islands of the Tigris River, and some hiding amongst civilians.”

Mosul’s once economic centre, the Old City, now bears a closer resemblance to a mass cemetery.

A few metres from the turquoise dome and the destroyed minaret of the al-Nuri mosque where the head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, pronounced his first and last public sermon in July 2014, Mohammed Qadir, internally displaced in Mosul, recounted how he watched his daughter die in a strike that destroyed his house.

Qadir now lives in a one-room house with his wife and three kids. He cannot come back to the house where they were living before the operation for the liberation of the city because it’s a pile of ruins. “My daughter was killed there”. In memory of Zubaida, 18 years old, killed by a mortar shell, a teddy bear is lying down on the same place where the girl used to sleep. “She went to the toilet and a mortar fell down, one of her feet was on the roof of our neighbour's house”, Qadir says.

In temperatures that reach 50 degrees, the operations to retrieve badly decomposed bodies from under the rubble have stopped and the smell of death is pervasive around the Old City of Mosul.

The stench from dead bodies still hangs over the city, despite government efforts to clear the rubble. “There are four more bodies in that house behind us. They are still inside. The stench coming from them is very strong. Our children are getting sick because of this”, says Qadir while a group of children shouting “Daesh Daesh” throw stones towards the decomposing body of an IS fighter.

Meanwhile, the threats of death or maiming remain, as unexploded ordnance is still hidden under a sea of debris. The inhabitants of the Old City face these dangers every day, which is why NGOs have placed several boards and posters advising the local population to not touch any suspicious item.

According to initial assessments by UNESCO, some 20,000 buildings were destroyed as the city’s 15 neighbourhoods were razed to the ground. As coalition airstrikes took a toll on all five bridges along the Tigris River, only three have since been reconstructed, and as UNESCO stated: “the level of destruction is unmatched since the Second World War.”

One year after the liberation, the city’s reconstruction is moving at a slow pace. People are helping each other clean the streets, rebuilding what can still be saved and small shops are opening in the Old city. People are trying to go back to normal life, but images of devastation make it difficult to imagine this happening anytime soon.

W/S Drone footage of destruction in al-Maidan neighbourhood of the Old City of Mosul *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

M/S Entrance to Mohammed Qadir's house

M/S View from Qadir's house

M/S Inscription on wall at Qadir's house

SOT, Mohammed Qadir, Mosul resident (Arabic): “We were six people. I had one [daughter] who was martyred. We lived in that house. After the airstrikes, I just couldn’t live there anymore. Now, I am renting a house for 50,000 [Dinars]. My house is entirely destroyed. My daughter died in it.”

W/S Wreckage and rubble

M/S Wreckage and rubble

M/S Man overlooking rubble

W/S Wreckage and rubble

M/S Wreckage and rubble

SOT, Talal Ahmad Aziz (Arabic): "As the operations to liberate Mosul kicked off, this site, directly behind me, was struck by a Sar aircraft. It included the family of a friend of mine; his mother, sister, and there was a young girl with them. Yes, true that there were Daesh members around the area, but there were civilians, too. And there are still bodies under the rubble. Nobody has dug them up until now.

W/S Drone footage of Hasansham refugee camp *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Women in camp

C/U Hands

C/U Hands

SOT, Zahida Ali (Arabic): "We can’t, they would say we are Daesh members. [Journalist speaks, unintelligible]. The local Hashd [Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)] would not accept. [Journalist speaks, unintelligible] I can’t. If I return to Shirqat, they will take me. The Hashd [Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)] will take me, they will arrest me. They would say your brother is a Daesh member. They incriminate the father, the brother, and sister [of a Daesh member]; and same with mothers and aunts."

M/S Tents in Hasansham camp

SOT, Zahida Ali (Arabic): "There are problems, with us staying in this camp, without a salary, without anything. No health services, no food. We aren’t eating anything. We have nothing. No identity [document], no death certificates, we have nothing. And for our children, no studies. We are just sitting here. We can’t go back to our homes."

W/S Tents in Hasansham camp

W/S Abu Yasir and his family entering tent

M/S UNHCR banner

SOT, Abu Yasir (Arabic): “There is still some fear. The situation is not… It is possible that there would be ten of them [IS militants] would go into a house and slaughter an entire family. If you were there, you would probably not want to stay. If I go back, who would protect me and my family? They would just come over and slaughter me and my family. I am forced to stay in the camp, and tolerate the heat, just so as to protect their lives.”

W/S Abu Yasir's son

M/S Abu Yasir's son filling water bottle

SOT, Abu Yasir (Arabic): "At least in this situation, the camp is safer than those other areas. It is better for us here in the camp."

C/U Abu Yasir's daughter

SOT, Abu Yasir (Arabic): “Last time I saw him [his cousin] was perhaps five days before we came for a visit. He was standing on the street, and he stopped me. He asked what I was up to; I told him we might be going back to the camp. He said, no, why would you want to return? I came here, and behold, one week later, I learnt the news that he was killed. The thing is, they beheaded him."

C/U Abu Yasir's hands

M/S Abu Yasir's children

SOT, Abu Yasir (Arabic): “After this incident, we have become afraid. Because they [IS] are still there, when they would go into a house and slaughter a whole family, which means they are still there.”

M/S Abu Yasir's son

C/U Abu Yasir's eyes

M/S Abu Yasir's daughter

SOT (Arabic): “As civilians, should cooperate with them [authorities]. If for instance I see someone suspicious, I should report him in order for us to prevent them [IS] from coming back. If they come back it will be a disaster.”

M/S Abu Yasir's family tent

W/S Abu Yasir's family tent

W/S Children running

W/S Drone footage of Hasansham camp

C/U Soldier, SWAT operation in Hamirah village

M/S Soldier in a humvee

M/S Ammunition

W/S View from the humvee

C/U Badge of Major General Najmi Al-Juhuri

SOT, Major General Najmi Al-Juhuri, Nineveh operations commander (Arabic): "We receive tens of phone calls on a daily basis, with people leading us to sleeper cells or guiding us to IS elements appearing anywhere."

M/S Iraqi flag

SOT, Major General Najmi Al-Juhuri, Nineveh operations commander (Arabic): “No, we cannot say for sure that it is 100 percent [elimination of IS]. This is a difficult percentage. Still, there are few IS sleeper cells hide in places such as the desert, the jungles, in islands of the Tigris River, and some hiding amongst civilians.”

C/U Iraqi Ground Forces emblem

C/U Eyes

C/U Flags

SOT, Major General Najmi Al-Juhuri, Nineveh operations commander (Arabic): "We always perform operations against the remaining IS elements as we receive intelligence from the people or the coalition forces whenever they survey the area."

W/S SWAT Team looking for IS weapons and traces

M/S SWAT Team looking for IS weapons and traces

W/S SWAT Team looking for IS weapons and traces

W/S SWAT Team looking for IS weapons and traces

M/S SWAT looking for IS weapons and traces

M/S SWAT looking for IS weapons and traces

W/S Humvee arriving

W/S SWAT

W/S Humvee

C/U Soldier

W/S SWAT convoy

W/S Drone footage of al-Nuri Mosque minaret *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

M/S Toilet where Mohammed Qadir's daughter, Zubaida, was during the strike

M/S Toilet where Zubaida was during the strike

SOT, Mohammed Qadir, Mosul resident (Arabic): "On 17 April 2017, she went to toilet with her little sister. As you know, there were continuous strikes. They got accustomed to this. But on that day, 17 April, she kissed her little sister and told her to go downstairs and she would follow her later.”

W/S Mohammed Qadir's house damaged

M/S Mohammed Qadir's house damaged

M/S Wall of Mohammed Qadir's house

SOT, Mohammed Qadir, Mosul resident (Arabic): "You know when a mortar falls you hear the sound, it's loud. When this one fell we didn't hear it even though it was right here. This is where it happened."

C/U Bear that Mohammed Qadir's family placed in the house for Zubaida's soul

M/S Bear that Mohammed Qadir's family placed in the house for Zubaida's soul

SOT, Mohammed Qadir, Mosul resident (Arabic): "One of her feet was on the roof of our neighbour's house. The foot and the shrapnel were both on the roof of our neighbour's house."

W/S Al-Nuri mosque

SOT, Mohammed Qadir, Mosul resident (Arabic): "So they asked them to treat the girl, but they said: 'We are not going to treat her. Our priority is the fighters. We can give her an injection so she dies immediately. Better for her to die at home.”

W/S Al-Nuri mosque's minaret

M/S Al-Nuri mosque's minaret reading 'Fuck ISIS'

SOT, Mohammed Qadir, Mosul resident (Arabic): "They brought her in; there were two bits of shrapnel in her lung, not in her legs. If it were her legs, she could have been saved, as I had stopped the bleeding, I performed first aid. But with shrapnel in the lung, there is no cure for that."

M/S Rubble in Mohammed Qadir's house

W/S Rubble in Mohammed Qadir's house

SOT, Mohammed Qadir, Mosul resident (Arabic): "Yes, there are two bodies still down there. And there are four more bodies in that house behind us. They are still inside. The stench coming from them is very strong. Our children are getting sick because of this. Yesterday, I had to take my child to the hospital because of this. We are reporting about these bodies to any officials here."

W/S Foot of a dead person *GRAPHIC*

M/S Children throwing stones to an IS member's body

M/S Children throwing stones to an IS member's body *GRAPHIC*

M/S Children throwing stones to an IS member's body

SOT, Mohammed Qadir, Mosul resident (Arabic): "These bodies belong to Daesh members. They were killed during the liberation oeprations. They are the ones who drove us out of our houses. They would put a gun to your head and say, either you leave or I will kill you. They forced us to leave, so you leave your house behind. For example, they came to our our neighbour and told him, you have to leave. You are forced to leave and you didn't have a choice."

W/S Drone footage of al-Nuri mosque *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Qadir leaving his house

M/S Qadir locking his house

W/S Street

M/S Flyer about IED's

W/S Street of Old Mosul

M/S Woman walking in street of Old Mosul

W/S Cars in street of Old Mosul

W/S Man sitting

M/S Man sitting

W/S People at cafe near al-Nuri mosque

W/S Street leading to al-Nuri mosque

W/S Drone footage of destruction in al-Maidan neighborhood of the Old City of Mosul *NO SOUND AT SOURCE

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