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Liberation and destruction: Remembering Mosul one year after Islamic State rule Open in fullscreen

Madiha Raza

Liberation and destruction: Remembering Mosul one year after Islamic State rule

The al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul was destroyed [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 July, 2018

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Blog: British aid worker Madiha Raza was in Mosul days after the Iraqi city was 'liberated' from the Islamic State group. A year on, she recalls the devastation she witnessed.
It was a year ago this month that the Iraqi city of Mosul was liberated from the Islamic State [IS] group. 

The July 10, 2017 defeat came eight months after an alliance of Iraqi armed forces, Shia militias and Kurdish fighters launched an offensive to retake the city to end the group's three-year rule there. It was considered one of the biggest defeats for the extremist organisation.

But one year on after Mosul was retaken from IS, scores of people remain displaced in and around the city, as it lies in ruins.

Remembering the destruction 

Three days after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory against the group in Mosul, I arrived in the city along with a team from Muslim Aid UK

We were one of the first groups of British aid workers to arrive in what was once known as the IS capital.

As I drove into Mosul from Erbil, I remember how surreal it felt to be in the city I had seen in the news for so long. 

Throughout the drive I had dozens of questions for my team. 

"What are those big ditches in the roads?" I remember asking. I was told that Islamic State fighters set traps for the Iraqi army – attempts to blow up tankers as they drove over the IEDs.

As we got deeper into the heart of Mosul, the signs of war and conflict started to become more and more apparent.

Burnt out cars and vehicles were strewn across the roadside. Entire streets were in complete ruins, buildings broken in half, a bus lodged on the third storey of a building, blown up by the sheer force of an explosion.

Nothing had quite prepared me for the scenes of utter destruction I was met with as I entered the city. It was nothing less than what a movie set would look like. But this was not a movie, this was reality. 

A bus lodged on the third storey of a building, blown up by the sheer force of an explosion [Madiha Raza]

The stench of bodies under the rubble that had not yet been cleared away is one that I will never forget. It marked the signs of life that once thrived in this busy city, but no longer remain. 

I entered an abandoned school which served as a base for IS when it took the city. The shell of an exploded car was right in the middle of the rubble where classrooms would have been.

Read also: The scars of war: Mosul's children haunted a year after Islamic State was routed

I crouched down to pick up a little girl's blue, battered shoe, thinking of how she may have once been running around happily exactly where I was standing, and how she may have had to then run for her life as bombs fell around her.

I crouched down to pick up a little girl's blue, battered shoe, thinking of how she may have once been running around happily exactly where I was standing, and how she may have had to then run for her life as bombs fell around her

Muslim Aid, in partnership with the European Union, had been on the frontlines evacuating civilians from the IS strongholds in various Iraqi cities including Sinjar, Anbar and Mosul.

The international non-governmental organisation provided immediate assistance, both medical and food aid, and helped transfer people to refugee camps where they could seek shelter.

A year on and the situation still has not improved much.

Vulnerable Iraqis 

Over two million Iraqis remain displaced and displacement camps, such as Hammam al-Alil in southern Mosul, still hold thousands of civilians who lived under IS captivity.

"Today, more people are vulnerable in Iraq than at any time during the recent conflict," the United Nations had said in a report. 

Their stories stay with me – stories of torture, rape and utter brutality under the brutal rule.

People were running up to us all the time, begging us to help them. A woman suddenly grabbed my arm and said: "Please come and meet my father, we need the world to know."

We followed her to her tent. Her father seemed very old, maybe not much older than my dad. He had an eye patch from a surgery last year and a bladder problem, he needed urgent medical help.

"My family were used as human shields," explained his daughter. "It was absolutely terrifying."

She and the rest of the family took turns carrying the patriarch of the family to the evacuation point, it took nine hours.

What if this was my father, I thought. I would have done the same, of course I would, but I can't imagine having to actually do it.


Read also: Giving comfort in the chaos: Meeting aid worker Madiha Raza

As resilient as people were, returning to their homes just days after their city was liberated was going to be tough. They did not have the basic necessities, support nor infrastructure in place to rebuild their lives to satisfactory standards.

As part of the Humanitarian Response Plan, $569 million has been requested for humanitarian activities of which only 28 percent has been received so far.

Historically, devastation of this magnitude takes decades to recover from, and Iraq, after decades of previous instability, must recover once again.

With elections having recently taken place but still no viable government in situ – the future seems uncertain.

But civil society and authorities in Iraq are determined to look to the future.

Building better communities 

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society, headed by Dr Yassin Abbas, in partnership with World Federation Aid, The Humanitarian Forum and Islamic Relief UK, are organising a conference to take place in Iraq this Autumn. It aims to focus on an action plan to empower local communities and civil society to 'build better communities'.

"Despite the end of major anti-IS operations, multiple, unpredictable volatile dynamics are expected to continue throughout 2018," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Iraq, said in a report. 

"Asymmetric attacks cannot be ruled out, particularly in areas where IS retains local support, and other sources of instability may emerge. Supporting humanitarian operations in Iraq therefore remains vital." 

As we look to the future, we all know that Iraq, as it always does, will recover, but this can only be achieved through communication, coordination and collaboration of local, national and international agencies.

Madiha Raza is a British aid worker, currently working with Muslim Aid UK.

Follow her on Twitter: @Madz_Raza

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