After victory over ISIS, Mosul discovers the cost: Homes were turned into graves
Aya Abosh found her sister trapped with her boys in the house where she spent her final moments, where shells fell from the sky and caved in the roof.
In the detritus of floral blankets they were lying with twisted railings surrounding them. Abosh somehow recognized Mahmoud her 6-year-old nephew. Aid workers struggling to find a zipper on a body bag strained to wrap remains which were disfigured by trauma, time and sun.
Abosh told that her sister Sajjida was 28 and devoted to God. The other boy was Bakr who was 9. In the swirling dust, stench and heat, Abosh stared at the bodies before the workers spirited them away quietly. It was quite early yet as there were way too many bodies to uncover in the old city of Mosul.
Just weeks ago this was the site of Iraq’s landmark military victory over the Islamic State extremist group. This victory crippled the militants’ odious ambitions for the Middle East ended the wrenching occupation of Mosul, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said. There were flag-waving celebrations noisy, even as the prime minister reminded the nation that there had been “blood and sacrifices,” too.
Only now is the terrible cost of the victory emerging, in quarters of the Old City ground to rubble by airstrikes and shelling and suicide bombs. For under the barrage were thousands of homes packed with families. In an instant, hundreds of the houses were transformed into graves.
With the rough estimates of the dead from the neighborhood reaching into the thousands, relatives have angrily questioned the way the battle was fought by Iraqi forces and their partners in the U.S.-led military coalition, which carried out airstrikes in support. The concerns over civilian casualties have become more urgent as U.S.-backed forces redouble their efforts to defeat the Islamic State in the militants’ final redoubts in Iraq and Syria.
Time after time in Mosul, civilians were killed in a similar, disturbing pattern: Islamic State militants kidnapped families as human shields in houses that served as the fighters’ garrisons. Snipers took up positions on rooftops, firing at Iraqi troops or coalition planes. Then the houses were bombed, sometimes by artillery or airstrikes and with little apparent regard for the people inside, relatives and survivors said.