WASHINGTON / MOSUL, IRAQ - When Iraqi forces announced the recapture of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) militants in July 2017, the joy of victory and the hope for a return to normalcy echoed across the country. But for Sana Ibrahim, who lost all of her children during IS rule, things would never be the same again.
Now, at 61, Ibrahim has to take care of 23 grandchildren left behind from her three sons and two daughters killed in the brutal conflict.
"IS destroyed us and left us nothing," said Ibrahim, surrounded by her grandchildren. "They assaulted my home and killed my children."
Before IS took control of Mosul in June 2014, Ibrahim and her family lived in the city's densely populated district known as Old Mosul. She said her house was now among thousands of other buildings destroyed by war.
Mosul is Iraq's second-largest city, with a population of more than 1 million, and the largest city once controlled by IS across Iraq and Syria.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the city free of IS in July 2017. The jihadist group has since been routed out of all territories it once controlled in Iraq, and it struggles to hold the remaining small pockets of territory it has in eastern Syria.
?'Now, I am in pain'
"Before IS, I was living at peace. True, I was worried for my children, but at least I was feeling comfortable. Now, I am in pain, and I have to take care of the young and the old in my house," Ibrahim told VOA.
She said her two older sons were killed by IS in 2016 after the group found they were members of the Iraqi security forces. Her younger son, 20, was shot by a sniper. Her two daughters were hit by airstrikes as they were fleeing the city in 2017.
Her children's bodies are still missing, and local officials have told Ibrahim that they are still searching for them.
The nine-month campaign to recapture Mosul came at a great cost for its residents. An Associated Press investigation has estimated that about 11,000 people were killed in the battle. The Norwegian Refugee Council last month revealed that around 54,000 houses in the city and surrounding areas are still uninhabitable, and 383,934 people remain displaced.
Iraqi officials have said reconstructing the city is beyond their capacity and requires an international effort.
An international conference in Kuwait earlier this year collected about $30 billion, mostly in credit and investments, to help rebuild Iraq's economy and infrastructure. However, that amount fell far short of Iraq's hope for $90 billion for post-IS recovery.
No longer willing to wait for help, many residents have started borrowing money to rebuild their homes, especially in Mosul's historic Old City, which has suffered the most damage.
?Return would be difficult
Ibrahim, who is renting a house in a Palestinian neighborhood, said she wanted to go back to her home in the Old City. But settling there will not be easy for her in a patriarchal community where women faced restrictions even before IS jihadist rule.
Her husband, Mouafaq Hamid Ibrahim, 71, cannot help because he is suffering from Alzheimer's. Her 23 grandchildren, ages 2 to 16, are still young and depend on donations from some of Mosul's wealthy families to pay for their education.
Despite the difficulties, Ibrahim told VOA she was proud that all her grandchildren were passing their exams this year.
"I don't want my grandchildren to get on Mosul streets and turn into beggars. I want them to one day enter colleges and find prestigious jobs," she said.