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Mosul Civilians Sift Through Rubble as Coalition Takes Fiercely Held Neighborhoods


Iraqi forces say despite recent gains, they still struggle with IS attacks, which now include the deployment of drones armed with small bombs in Mosul, Jan. 11, 2017.

“When we got out of the house, we ran. A sniper's bullet nearly hit my aunt’s foot,” says Nouradine, a former tile worker in a tiny grocery store in Mosul.

Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants had been fighting for a month in Nouradine's area, so when he saw his chance a few days ago, he ran.

In areas of Mosul controlled by Iraqi forces, the remnants of car bombs remain strewn on the street, Jan. 11, 2017.
In areas of Mosul controlled by Iraqi forces, the remnants of car bombs remain strewn on the street, Jan. 11, 2017.


When Nouradine reached a neighborhood firmly controlled by the Iraqi army, he shaved his IS-mandated beard immediately. “When I came, everyone was afraid of me,” he jokes.

The next day, the fighting finally stopped. Iraqi forces had secured it and several other fiercely contested neighborhoods in the past week, building momentum as the military fights toward its immediate goal of recapturing all of the city east of the Tigris River.

WATCH: Heather Murdock's report from Mosul


Iraqi forces supported by an international coalition have been battling to re-take Mosul, and all of Iraq, from IS since mid-October. As the New Year began, forces began a new push, intensifying their efforts. Fighters in eastern Mosul, one of the few urban fronts of the current battle, say they think speed will help them defeat their enemy.

“We are attacking them as fast as possible,” says Iraqi Special Ops. Forces 1st Lt. Ali Sahaf,” outside his Mosul base, which was once the home of a Christian family, but later occupied by IS militants. “It is because we don’t want to give them time to reorganize their units and build defense lines for themselves.”

Iraqi Special Ops. Forces 1st LT. Ali Sahaf says speed is one key aspect of current operations, preventing Islamic State militants from re-organizing defense lines, Mosul, Jan. 11, 2017.
Iraqi Special Ops. Forces 1st LT. Ali Sahaf says speed is one key aspect of current operations, preventing Islamic State militants from re-organizing defense lines, Mosul, Jan. 11, 2017.

If and when Iraqi and coalition forces take all of eastern Mosul, the urban battle will once again change drastically, as IS will be protected by the Tigris River on one side, and IS-controlled territories around the city on the other. As of Saturday, Iraqi forces had breached one section of the river inside Mosul, but IS currently controls most of the river inside the city.

Already militants are deploying new tactics, such as using drones to drop bombs on Iraqi forces, according to soldiers.

“Before, they used drones to take video of the Iraqi army to plan attacks,” said Captain Ahmed Haidar, an Iraqi Special Ops. Forces officer fighting in Mosul. “More recently, they changed tactics and they have been arming drones with small bombs and dropping them on us.”

Civilians remain

While 145,000 people have fled their homes since this offensive began, Mosul remains crowded with families, desperate to rebuild their lives and their decimated city after two-and-a-half years under IS control.

Othman Taha keeps a picture of his son, Abdulrahman, hanging on the wall of his small grocery store. Abdulrahman was 3 years old when he was murdered under IS, says Taha.

Othman Taha keeps a picture of his son, Abdulrahman hanging in his small grocery. He says Abdulrahman was murdered under IS rule when he was 3 years old.
Othman Taha keeps a picture of his son, Abdulrahman hanging in his small grocery. He says Abdulrahman was murdered under IS rule when he was 3 years old.


“They call themselves Islamic State but they are not Muslims,” he says. “Islam does not allow murdering children or anyone else.”

With almost no government services, including running water and electricity, residents are living among massive piles of garbage and rubble from bombs. People who were poor are now destitute, trying anything to eke out a living.

Children play among houses destroyed by car bombs while airstrikes and gunfire are heard in other neighborhoods in Mosul, Jan. 11, 2017.
Children play among houses destroyed by car bombs while airstrikes and gunfire are heard in other neighborhoods in Mosul, Jan. 11, 2017.


Some young men collect scraps of rubber from the wreckage to sell. Others find bushes and trees to cut down and use for fuel. Shops slowly restock their shelves with items imported from Kurdish Iraq as the goods imported from Syria under IS stopped coming when Iraqi forces cut the militants' escape route last year.

Very few people are buying much, locals say, because most were unemployed with IS in control.

“No one has enough water in this area,” says Rayed Zaida, a 55-year-old former taxi driver. IS cut water pipes when they fled this area to punish the people. “We put pipes into the ground five meters, and the water we bring up is not clean.”

Streets around military bases near the front lines in Mosul are baracaded with piles of dirt and old vehicles to prevent car bombs from approaching in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 11, 2017.
Streets around military bases near the front lines in Mosul are baracaded with piles of dirt and old vehicles to prevent car bombs from approaching in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 11, 2017.

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