Dozens of children and civilians are among victims the battle for Mosul produces every single day
ISIS' desperate tactic as fighters advance to Mosul is to lob mortars indiscriminately toward government-controlled areas
Omar Ali stands outside his home in eastern Mosul weeping. The young father’s sense of relief after being liberated from ISIS has been replaced by a feeling of unbearable loss.
Only a day earlier his 18-month-old daughter Amira was there on the pavement in the Zahraa neighborhood playing with relatives when a mortar round landed nearby. Shrapnel tore through the air and the child’s skull. Amira was killed instantly. Her two cousins were seriously injured.
“Look world, this is my daughter,” Omar Ali cries. “What did she do wrong? She’s gone. She was just playing. She’s gone from me and she’s my only child.”
He holds a photograph of Amira dressed in a black sweater with white hearts, her cherub face looking up rather than at the camera.
She is young and innocent like so many of the dozens of civilian victims the street-to-street battle for Mosul produces every single day.
The fight to save lives
Two kilometers away in a dusty lot behind an abandoned house turned clinic, a team of Iraqi military medics fights to save the lives of injured people who can get there.
Every day they see the terrible consequences of mortars fired into neighborhoods like Zahraa, where Amira lost her short life.
It’s a bloody, seemingly endless production line. The wounded are delivered, patched up quickly and loaded into ambulances for transport to hospitals.
“ISIS now has no course of action but to target children and civilians, because they are the easiest to attack,” says Lt. Khaleel Amer, head of the triage center. “The mortar rounds have left so many civilians wounded or dead.”
The terror group’s tactic of desperation as nearly 100,000 fighters advance toward Mosul is to simply lob mortars indiscriminately toward government-controlled areas.
One family arrives in the back of a Humvee belonging to the Iraqi Counter-Terror Force. Eight wounded men stumble out on their own or are gently lifted by the soldiers.
One man with leg injuries plants a kiss of gratitude on the cheek of the uniformed medic carrying him in his arms.
Suddenly an unharmed man yells: “Everything is gone because of ISIS! God damn ISIS and those who brought them upon us!”
He breaks down in tears, too distraught to give his name, and continues to tell the story of how his 21-year-old son was killed.
“A mortar fell just in front of the door. We came and he was just a piece of meat. Four or five of my neighbors were standing with him. And they are all dead.”
What’s left of his son is wrapped in a dark green blanket in the back of the Humvee.
Just across the street, parents struggle to carry their belongings and children wave white flags as they stream into a processing center for refugees
They are among the 68,000 people the United Nations estimates have been displaced by the fighting, just a fraction of Mosul’s population.
“It was a terrifying night,” one mother says as she gathers her children. “As soon as there was daylight we packed our belongings and left. Thank God we are safe.”
Choosing to stay
The Iraqi government and military have advised Mosul’s population of about 1.5 million to remain in their homes, fearing the possibility of a large-scale exodus that aid groups say they are not equipped to handle.
There is little food, limited electricity, and no running water, but some residents say they indeed prefer the comforts of home to the indignity of a refugee camp.
“Why would I leave my home?” asks one resident, who won’t reveal his name out of security concerns. “I have young children. It would be very difficult for them to be in a cold refugee camp over home.”
The father of three was a teacher and when ISIS took control of his city he was forced to disseminate the extremist group’s curriculum, one so radical that he refused to send his own children to school.
“I only had four students in my class,” he says. “Only the children of ISIS members went to the school. All the other students lost two years of their education.”
His neighbors seem to agree. There are many challenges to come but life under ISIS was unbearable. Government salaries and pensions were no longer available, isolation meant economic difficulty, and the tyranny of the organization’s rule created fear.
“ISIS is like a dark thing on your chest,” says Talal Mustafa, who lives just a few houses down. “Yes, the darkness is gone.”