Mosul, One Year On From ISIL: A Personal Reflection

A year ago today, I was standing in the shattered remains of Mosul city.

The once vibrant western part of the city was reduced to rubble. Almost everywhere I looked I saw homes and historic monuments damaged or destroyed. The rare buildings still standing were scarred from bullets, mortars or black halos from fire.

During three years of violence bridges were blown up to stop residents from leaving the city. Blockades were raised to slow the flow of civilians, so gunmen could attack. Children’s lives were upended.

Mosul, July 2017: downed bridges in the east of the city prevented civilians from escaping during Mosul's occupation. (Image: Supplied)

Omar was just 11 years old when his family bravely decided to flee in July last year. He was packing his bags, excited he might soon play football again. A bomb hit his home without warning, and he lost his leg while his older brother, Ahmed, suffered brain damage from a piece of shrapnel that lodged in his skull.

They were lucky to survive.

Ahmed (L) and (Omar (R) in September 2017. Ahmed suffered brain damage from shrapnel and Omar lost his leg after a bomb hit their Mosul home in July 2017, shortly before the city was liberated. (Image: Supplied)

My friends in Iraq attended classes within the historic walls of Mosul University, now a towering skeleton. That was before the war when they had dreams of becoming doctors, translators and engineers. All of those dreams were put on hold.

University of Mosul, July 2017: An Iraqi woman walks past the destroyed university administration offices of the reopened University of Mosul. (Image: Martyn Aim/Corbis via Getty Images)
University of Mosul, April 2018: Iraqi students gather for a celebration marking the university's 51st anniversary about eight months after the city was retaken by Iraqi government forces from the control of ISIL. (Image: AHMAD MUWAFAQ/AFP/Getty Images)

A year ago, walking through the empty streets in west Mosul, what struck me was how quiet the neighbourhood was. About 750,000 people had been able to flee in the months leading up to the battle to retake the last sections of the city from ISIL. It was the longest urban battle since World War Two and it’s estimated more than 9000 civilians were killed.

In mid-July 2017, the Government of Iraq announced that Mosul had been fully retaken from ISIL. The youth were elated – beards were shaved and burqas removed, small acts of rebellion after three years of living under ISIL control.

Mosul, July 2017: Children holding Iraq's flag react as Iraqi forces celebrate in the Old City of Mosul after the government's announcement of the liberation of the embattled city. (Image: FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Celebration As Mosul Is Freed From ISIL, But City Left Devastated

A year later, I’m in Australia while Mosul is a city divided. Colleagues tell me many of the internally displaced people are returning and in the east of the city, markets are again bustling and thriving. Children still struggle with the lasting effects of war, but at least they are back in school. However, there aren’t enough teachers or supplies.

Mosul markets, June 2018: Iraqis shop for sweets before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (Image:  ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images)
Mosul markets, July 2018: An Iraqi shopkeeper and a boy wait for customers. (Image: ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images)

Yet, to the west, the scale of destruction is overwhelming, with UN Habitat estimating eight million tonnes of debris remain in the city. Families are clearing rubble by hand, and many returned to find their homes booby-trapped. Explosive devices were placed underneath toilet seats and children’s toys. This is the aftermath that Australians don’t see… injuries and deaths that continue to occur months and even years afterwards. The level of contamination from explosive hazards is so high that experts report it could take a decade to clear.

July, 2018: Iraqi construction workers rebuild houses in the northern city of Mosul. Scores of people are still displaced in and around Mosul as the city lies in ruins, one year after it was retaken from ISIL. (Image: ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images)
Mosul, July 2018: businesses destroyed in the fighting. (Image: Supplied)
Mosul, July 2018: The dome of the destroyed Al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul, a year after the city was retaken by the Iraqi government forces. (Image: ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images)

We can’t expect families to get by on their own. Now more than ever, people need equipment, investment and money for reconstruction. Children need help dealing with the psychological effects of war. Humanitarian agencies like World Vision are providing clean water, food and helping rebuild schools. We’re even having to teach children to avoid unexploded mines in their homes and playgrounds.

The Australian Government has pledged $110 million over three years for Mosul, but all governments can and should do more to help families recover. The UN estimates restoring Mosul’s basic infrastructure alone will cost more than $1 billion.

Mosul June 2018: Nearly a year after ISIL was expelled from its "capital" in Iraq, hundreds of vehicles on began the titanic task of clearing the rubble in the western part of Mosul, the most destroyed city in the country. (Image: ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images)

The city’s two million past and current residents still need our help. We owe it to children like Omar and Ahmed to not forget them. The war might be over but the troubles remain.

Caelin Briggs is World Vision Australia’s Senior Policy Advisor for Conflict and Displacement. You can learn more and support World Vision's Mosul campaign here.