It’s an ongoing and bloody military campaign, raging since early 2014, as Iraqi and Kurdish forces, supported by an international coalition, continue the fight to root out and eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group from Iraq.
Mosul was one of ISIL’s first power grabs and critical footholds in Iraq. After over two years under their control, they are now slowly being pushed out from the area and other surrounding villages, and citizens are beginning to return.
Selim and Saadia are a Yazidi couple who fled their home with their four daughters. They had heard news of what ISIL, known as ISIS, did to other Yazidis, especially in Sinjar, where scores of women were raped and killed.
“Life was good until they arrived. We fled and life was turned upside down,” says Saadia. “The whole of Bashika fled. We left our homes, our money, everything and we went.”
Asked about finding out that ISIL had been staying on their property and the state they returned to find their home in, Selim is distraught but not surprised.
“They had broken the doors, inside it looked as if they played football,” he says. “But it’s good that they stayed in our house. If they hadn’t stayed here, they would have burned down the whole house.”
But some of the remnants of ISIL’s stay were slightly more concerning than broken furniture. Selim continues: “When my son first returned here [to the house] 10 days ago, he told us that the Peshmerga cordoned it off. They told him not to go in because the house is booby trapped.”
The weapons left behind are plenty. And so is the evidence of ISIL’s own weapons manufacturing. In make-shift construction sites, thousands of homemade mortars, roadside bombs and even missiles were constructed by hand.
These are still being used against Kurdish and Iraqi troops, today. Every day, literally truckloads of people are transported out of Mosul. Many of them seriously wounded.
“It’s still not totally safe,” says Saadia of her family home. “We are scared to move around.”
After more than two years holed up with her family, Om Alaa escaped Mosul unharmed – she is one of the lucky ones. However, the fear they endured was very real.
“Their presence on the streets was terrifying, petrifying,” she says. “The way they looked, the way they behaved because they showed no understanding or mercy.”
“I can now talk without fear because I am liberated from them. But if I were in their presence, I couldn’t have said anything, no matter how unjust they were.”