Grief as bod­ies are found in Mo­sul’s rub­ble

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

MO­SUL: The streets of the Old City are lit­tered with bod­ies, tan­gled between shat­tered stones and rem­nants of the lives they left be­hind.

In the bak­ing sum­mer heat, ex­hausted res­cue crews are now sift­ing through the de­bris of the tough­est bat­tle against the Is­lamic State in what be­came its fi­nal re­doubt in Mo­sul.

As Iraqi ground troops, US-led coali­tion jets and IS mil­i­tants pul­verised the Old City’s wind­ing maze of streets last week, thou­sands of civil­ians were caught in the cross­fire.

But the area is now de­serted. Its in­hab­i­tants evac­u­ated to houses, camps or prison cells across the prov­ince in re­cent months.

A week af­ter Iraqi of­fi­cials de­clared vic­tory in Mo­sul, all that re­mains in the Old City is rub­ble and hun­dreds of bod­ies.

Aid groups say that thou­sands of civil­ians were killed. A fi­nal death toll is un­likely to ever be known, rob­bing fam­i­lies of an­swers and a grave for their grief.

Across western Mo­sul, hun­dreds of fam­i­lies are still wait­ing for news. Others know ex­actly where their loved ones were killed but are still un­able to reach them.

On Fri­day, Su­maya Sarhan, 48, waited in the res­cue work­ers’ sun-parched yard for her brother’s re­mains, three months af­ter he was killed in an air strike.

“We lived op­po­site and tried so many times to get him out. But it was too dan­ger­ous, there was too much fight­ing. To­day, I fi­nally saw him pulled from the rub­ble.”

Star­ing res­o­lutely for­ward, for a mo­ment Sarhan looked lost amid the bus­tle of the work­ers around her. Then she started to cry. “He’s just bones. Just bones,” she said.

The task of cut­ting bod­ies from their homes in this, the most dev­as­tated swathe of the city, has fallen to a 25-man civil de­fence unit with one bull­dozer, a fork­lift and a sin­gle ve­hi­cle to carry the corpses.

They have found hun­dreds of peo­ple who suf­fo­cated un­der the ru­ins of their homes. Then, there are those IS shot as they tried to flee, their bod­ies left to rot in the sun­shine as a mes­sage to any­one else who might at­tempt to es­cape.

“It was slow go­ing to­day. Mainly women and chil­dren,” said one of the res­cue work­ers, Daoud Salem Mah­moud, stoop­ing over a green can­vas bag he had pulled from the rub­ble.

It was bulging, ap­par­ently packed by its owner as they waited for res­cue.

And as Daoud laid out its con­tents one by one, the shape of a life emerged.

In the back of an Iraqi pass­port, a black-and-white im­age of a dark­haired young woman smiled out at the cam­era.

A green purse was empty aside from the busi­ness card of a Mo­sul wed­ding pho­tog­ra­pher.

And then came her jewellery: gold ban­gles, small rings, a sin­gle heart-shaped ear­ring.

Sit­ting qui­etly on the step of a hut nearby, 21-year-old Ahmed Salem said the woman was a rel­a­tive, killed when an air strike hit their home.

He was wait­ing to col­lect her body, along­side those of seven cousins, most of them al­ready stacked in body bags on the back of a res­cue truck.

PIC­TURE: AP

Dis­placed res­i­dents of Mo­sul make their way through the wrecked streets of the city.

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