In Mosul, Fighting Continues After Iraqi Government Declared Victory Over ISIS

Jul 17, 2017
Originally published on July 18, 2017 12:30 am
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The Iraqi government has been celebrating its victory over ISIS in the city of Mosul by announcing a national holiday and holding a parade in the capital. But this weekend, it banned reporters from Mosul's Old City district where the worst fighting took place. The media ban was said to be for their safety. It also came as reports spread of continued fighting, devastation and disorder. NPR's Jane Arraf got there despite that, and she reports on what it's like.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: It's been more than a week since the Iraqi government declared Mosul liberated. But here in the hardest hit section, Mosul's Old City, it's still chaos. I'm going around with Civil Defense forces who are retrieving the bodies of civilians, dozens of them every day who were killed when buildings collapsed around them. You can hear airstrikes from a neighborhood where Iraqi security forces are battling ISIS fighters dug into tunnels in some of the buildings.

And then an army officer stops his Humvee to tell me journalists are banned here now. He won't tell me why. A few minutes later, an Iraqi special forces vehicle speeds by with more than a dozen men standing in the back. The sun is beating down. They've been handcuffed and stripped to their underwear. They're ISIS, says one of the men I'm talking to.

Up the street in vehicles with Shia flags, a group of men raise their rifles. They're from what used to be Shia militias backed by Iran. But they're now officially part of Iraqi security forces, the least-disciplined part.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

ARRAF: That would be celebratory gunfire, although it does come in between the sound of helicopter gunships and airstrikes - hard to tell who that's coming from.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

ARRAF: There are a few groups here. One of them is a group of sheikhs from the south of Iraq who have come bringing food and water to the soldiers and everyone else here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: NPR, yes.

ARRAF: The Iraqi government fails to get food and water out to even some of its own security forces, and there are no aid agencies in this part of town to help civilians. So the sheikhs from the south have gathered tens of thousands of dollars from rich businessmen and brought food and water across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: "We provide cigarettes, medicine, ice, water, food," their logistics manager tells me. I ask him why the government doesn't supply those things.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: "They're poor," he says. "No, they're thieves," says one of his colleagues, "thieves."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing in foreign language).

ARRAF: And then the food and water and cigarettes arrive in a truck playing Shia religious songs.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: One of the sheikhs says the destruction is a disaster. But he says about ISIS, "we beat those filthy rats who pretended to be Muslim."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: In another neighborhood, police are stopping civilians from coming back. They say it's not safe yet. But a woman emerges from an alley, struggling with a bag. There's a little boy with her. His arms are wrapped around a big jar of marbles he rescued from their destroyed home. Um Rayan tells me she came to get some clothes because she doesn't have money to buy any.

UM RAYAN: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: "My husband is gone. My house is gone," she says.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: Meanwhile, the civil defense workers continue to pull bodies from under the rubble. They load them onto a truck - the relatives in the front, the body bags in the back. This has become the new normal in Mosul's Old City. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Mosul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.