A FIGHTER with Iraqi forces looks away as his weapon fires ISIS targets in .
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
WEST MOSUL – The burned body of an Islamic State fighter is decomposing among the trash on a sidewalk in West Mosul. It stinks of rot and death. The quiet street, a scene of fighting several weeks ago, otherwise seems more normal than expected. Birds chirp.
A burned-out car sits at the bottom of a hill and a barricade of charred vehicles and twisted metal mark where ISIS members resisted the Iraqi Army’s advance. Children carry pots and plastic jugs to collect water in a city that lacks running water and electricity. There is fighting a kilometer away, where the Iraqi Army is making slow but steady progress to oust ISIS from its last major Iraqi urban stronghold.
Qasim, a tall Moslawi, as people from Mosul are called, was a teacher before ISIS arrived in June 2014. He opens the gate to the yard that rings a large, 150-year-old stone house. In a cluttered yard damp from recent rains, he points to two mounds of dirt with small yellow signs stuck on top.
“They killed my brothers and we buried them here.
One brother had eight kids and the other had nine,” he says. They were murdered for a minor infraction – not opening the door fast enough for the ISIS members. Now their 17 children are fatherless, living somewhere outside the city as “internally displaced persons.”
The macabre graves and the burned body near the house are part of daily life in Mosul as it has been since ISIS arrived. The first acts of the terrorists were to execute those associated with the government in Baghdad. These officials were dumped in mass graves on the outskirts of the city. They expelled Christians, Shia, Yazidis and others. Yazidi women were sold as slaves here in August 2014. Those Mosul residents who remained were subjected to a strict Islamist regime. Cigarettes were banned and a whole series of draconian laws put in place to regulate daily life.
Down the road from the old dwelling and graves is another street, also scattered with burned cars. Three men sit outside a house.
They belong to one of the five families that remain on the street; the rest, they say, have fled. Some of the houses are damaged and burned, but most are relatively intact from the battle.
“It is a black city now. It was once great, but the black flag of ISIS symbolizes what happened here,” says Said, one of the men. “We have no work, and infrastructure is destroyed. It will not be a safe place or place of peace.”
The older men have already seen a decade of war, against the Iranians in the 1980s, when many here first served in Saddam Hussein’s army; then against the Americans, living under the al-Qaida insurgency; and now, between the Iraqi Army and ISIS.
Next to the men in the sunny street is a burned house. The owner, named Safwan, says that it was turned into a small prison by ISIS.
“My brother ran away, and they accused us of being infidels,” he recalled. “ISIS said all believers should come to this land.”
He describes the abuses carried out by locals and foreigners, particularly the ISIS leaders, who he says were foreign. Many of the foreigners were “Russians,” the men say, which usually means Chechens. The small prison that ISIS built was constructed on the second floor. The doors to two rooms were covered in iron, and metal bars were built to wall off another area near the stairs. Men who had committed minor infractions were kept here.
Later, as the battle approached, ISIS burned the prison and the house. Now it is strewn with rubble, and its once stately foyer is a black hulk. A chain on which a chandelier once hung, remains. Safwan doesn’t see how he can return to the home, or repair it without money or work.
Down on the street, the men say this is their 22nd day of liberation. There is no running water. Electricity comes from generators.
They also tell stories of atrocities. One man says his grandson was murdered for not opening a door on demand from ISIS fighters.
Another says that when the Iraqi Army arrived, some ISIS members disguised themselves as women and tried to shelter among local women. When one man refused to let them, they shot him.
“There is nothing worse than ISIS. It was like a giant jail here, a permanent punishment.”
The men speak of ISIS abuses, but many of them do not want to discuss why ISIS was welcomed in Mosul when it first arrived years ago. What they will say is they fear for the future, and although there is temporary peace now with the Iraqi security forces flooding the streets, after decades of war the scars of the past will not heal soon.
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