Iraq: Fear and devastation plague Mosul one year after liberation

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... Еще, 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. “

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