ISIS Is Gone But Mosul Residents Still Suffer Dire Conditions
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The battle for the Iraqi city of Mosul ended more than a year ago, but many survivors still face horrible conditions there. ISIS held and brutalized that city for three years. Then U.S. and Iraqi forces pushed the militants out, but the battle caused widespread death and destruction. NPR's Jane Arraf went to Mosul to find out how people there are trying to rebuild their lives.
JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Radhwan Shukri is kind of a pioneer. He reopened his tea shop just a few months after Mosul was freed from ISIS last year. It's not much - a few dented tin tables and some wooden benches - but it's one of the very few businesses to reopen in Mosul's historic Old City, where the U.N. says more than 8,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed.
RADHWAN SHUKRI: (Through interpreter) There was no one. When I first opened, I would make tea and then throw it out. There was nobody to buy it. But now, thank God, people are coming back.
ARRAF: About 600 families have moved back - maybe not even 10 percent of the population. Not everyone can afford a glass of tea or his thick, sweet coffee. They sit there anyway in the breeze of one of the air coolers he's hooked up from a borrowed power line. Shukri closed the tea shop after being arrested and whipped three times by ISIS for letting people smoke, forbidden under their rules. Now that ISIS is gone, people are trying to move forward, but they carry with them the loss of thousands of civilians killed in liberating the city.
OMAR AHMED: Khali.
ARRAF: That's your uncle?
Omar Ahmed shows me a photo of one of his late uncles.
O. AHMED: (Through Interpreter) Two of my uncles died and my mother with them. My mother was baking bread on the roof, and a mortar landed. It was two years ago during the liberation when the army entered.
ARRAF: People here feel betrayed by their own government, which left them under ISIS rule for three years and then told them to stay in their houses during the battle. Thousands of civilians died. They feel betrayed by the U.S. and its allies, which launched artillery and airstrikes that destroyed entire sections of the city.
OMAR MOAMAR: (Through interpreter) If an ISIS sniper moved from roof to roof, they hit four houses. Is this justified?
ARRAF: That's Omar Moamar. His brother-in-law was killed when he was hit by a missile. He was collecting water. Moamar is an iron worker, but he has hardly any work. More than a year after the battle, the only homes being rebuilt in a section of the city are through private donations. As for the U.S., it spent billions of dollars fighting ISIS, but it's made clear it won't give new money to Iraq for reconstruction. It says it's already done a lot to rebuild the country.
Mosul's governor, Nofal al-Akoub, arrives at the tea shop. He says he's dropped by to see what people need, except he doesn't have any funds. Everyone blames that on corruption. I ask Akoub why the country's oil money isn't being used to reconstruct Mosul, and he laughs.
NOFAL AL-AKOUB: (Laughter) You know about your answer.
ARRAF: But I want you to tell us.
AL-AKOUB: No. No. I can't speak about that because you must make a problem for me.
ARRAF: He says if he answers, it'll be a problem for him.
A few minutes later, his guards bundle him into a car and drive away.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).
ARRAF: A group of women crowd the sidewalk. They were desperate to talk to Akoub, but his guards kept them away.
ENNAS ABDUL SALAM: (Speaking Arabic).
ARRAF: Nobody listens to us, says Ennas Abdul Salam. Her husband was a municipal employee. He was arrested recently, and she doesn't know where he is.
SALAM: (Through interpreter) You see how unjust it is - all these people, our houses, our things. I have five children suffering. The Old City is suffering.
YUSRA HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken).
ARRAF: Yusra Hussein shows me a photo of her husband winning a bodybuilding championship. She says he was arrested nine months ago because his name was similar to someone on a wanted list. Her house is destroyed.
From the edge of the crowd, another woman, Sabah Hazem, sobs. Her son has been arrested. Her house was also destroyed. And she has late-stage cancer, but she can't afford the tests needed to follow up on treatment.
There are more women whose husbands were killed or houses collapsed. There's a woman carrying a year-and-a-half-old girl who can't sit up. It's a microcosm of the Old City's problems.
FARIS SALIH: (Foreign language spoken).
ARRAF: Nearby, we find Faris Salih going through the rubble of his home to see if there's anything he can salvage. He's an ex-army officer. And his family now lives in someone's construction site. He's found the fridge and washing machine, but the motors have been looted.
SALIH: (Through interpreter) I just came to take some things. I lost something much more valuable - my daughter and my brother.
ARRAF: His daughter, Aisha, was 13. She and her uncle were literally torn apart when the house collapsed in an airstrike. While the battle was going on, he says he called contacts in the Iraqi army to tell them not to fire on the houses, that there were civilians everywhere. They didn't listen. And now he's doing what he can to rebuild his life.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)
ARRAF: In the last few months, the bridges have reopened across the river, and the street is full of taxis and trucks with people salvaging their furniture, even a line of cars in a wedding procession.
There's a wedding going by and a kid spraying this fake snow from a can. The bride and the groom are in the car in the front, which is white, spotless, and it's covered with red ribbon and plastic flowers.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ARRAF: Mohammad Mawafaq is playing old Maslawi songs as he installs strips of colored lights in a shop the size of a large closet. He says it took about $1,500 to repair the women's clothing shop.
MOHAMMAD MAWAFAQ: (Foreign language spoken).
ARRAF: And he says, this time it will be even nicer.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMER BANGING)
ARRAF: A carpenter across the street who gives his name as Abu Ahmed is at work just three days after burying his 20-year-old nephew who died a year ago.
ABU AMHED: (Through interpreter) When he was killed, we only found pieces of his body. Three days ago, we found the rest of his body under the rubble, and we buried him.
GHANEM SALEH: (Foreign language spoken).
ARRAF: Nearby, Ghanem Saleh is cheerfully working on renovating a pharmacy in a building where you can still see the tangled metal from an airstrike. He carries his tools in beat-up car with completely shattered windows. Saleh tells me the Old City will come back, and it will be better because people in the Old City struggle, and they work. He says, if the government helped us, in a year, you wouldn't recognize the place. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Mosul.
(SOUNDBITE OF PAVANE'S "PERCEES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.