Plucked from ru­ins of Mo­sul, or­phans left be­hind by Isil’s for­eign ‘mar­tyrs’

The Daily Telegraph - - World News - By Josie En­sor MID­DLE EAST COR­RE­SPON­DENT and Camp­bell Mac­di­armid in Mo­sul

‘We were two days without wa­ter. One fighter said you can have wa­ter but I will kill one of your chil­dren’

Amina sat on the makeshift med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion ta­ble star­ing at her wounds, her blonde hair mat­ted and caked in dust.

The lit­tle girl, who looked no older than three, was pulled out from the rub­ble of Mo­sul’s Old City where she had been trapped for days be­fore Iraqi res­cue work­ers heard her faint cries.

When asked about her par­ents, she replied only that they had be­come “mar­tyrs”.

Speak­ing lit­tle Ara­bic, she is thought to be the daugh­ter of Chechen Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant (Isil) fight­ers who died in bat­tle.

Dozens of chil­dren have been pulled, both dead and alive, from the rub­ble in re­cent days.

Many of them are the chil­dren of Isil fight­ers who ei­ther blew them­selves up in sui­cide at­tacks or were killed by Iraqi forces in the ji­hadists’ fi­nal re­doubt.

Iraqi com­man­ders have said most of those killed in the fi­nal days of bat­tle were for­eign ji­hadists who “fought to the last” rather than sur­ren­der.

While Haidar al-abadi, Iraq’s prime min­is­ter, de­clared the fight for Mo­sul over a week ago, a pocket of diehard Isil fight­ers re­mains in the Old City.

Us-led coali­tion air strikes are be­ing used to dis­lodge them, but houses are flat­tened in the process, leav­ing res­i­dents trapped un­der­neath.

One young boy was found by sol­diers so des­per­ately hun­gry that he was eat­ing raw meat from the ground.

A Chechen girl, who gave her name as Khadija, told medics treat­ing her that her father had be­come a “shahid” or mar­tyr. “She is now an or­phan,” one doc­tor said.

In the past three days, Unicef, the chil­dren’s char­ity, said it had seen an in­crease in the num­ber of un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren ar­riv­ing at med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties. Some ba­bies brought in have been found alone in the de­bris. “One doc­tor we spoke to told us that in­fants as young as one week old, chil­dren and moth­ers were emerg­ing wounded and cov­ered in dust and soil, some were mal­nour­ished,” said Hamida Ra­mad­hani, Unicef ’s deputy rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Iraq.

While there is lit­tle doubt that the last gun­men will shortly be killed or sur­ren­der, many in Mo­sul worry that un­less the city is re­built rapidly and gov­erned justly, fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of ex­trem­ists will be drawn from the ranks of their chil­dren.

Wor­ry­ingly too, as fears of re­tribu­tive killings and col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment grow, both au­thor­i­ties and civil­ians are warn­ing there can be no rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Isil sym­pa­this­ers – or the rel­a­tives of Isil fight­ers.

From an apart­ment on the eastern side of Mo­sul, which is di­vided by the Ti­gris river, a group of men sat and watched the plumes of smoke ris­ing from the an­cient quar­ter last week.

“Damn them,” one man said of the re­main­ing Isil mil­i­tants and their fam­i­lies still holed up in the rub­ble across the river. “They killed our fam­i­lies, why should they get to live?” asked 28-year-old Walid Khalid.

It was a som­bre re­u­nion as the men ac­counted the per­sonal cost of the past three years of Isil oc­cu­pa­tion. Each shar­ing har­row­ing sto­ries of the deaths of rel­a­tives, de­stroyed homes, and ex­tended pri­va­tion.

One young man spoke only to tell of how Isil fight­ers had de­nied him wa­ter when his chil­dren were nearly dy­ing of thirst in an Old City base­ment. “We had been two days without wa­ter,” said Ye­hyeh Zek­e­ria, a gaunt man with sunken cheeks. “One fighter said you can have wa­ter but in ex­change I will kill one of your chil­dren.

“An­other fighter stood by a run­ning hose and said: ‘This wa­ter is for the broth­ers only’.” Yasir Samir Ahmed, 25, es­caped fight­ing in the Old City last week with his par­ents. His broth­ers, Mo­hamed and Ahmed, were killed by a mor­tar blast two months ago as they drew wa­ter from a well less than 100 me­tres from their home.

“You should have left a long time ago,” an­other friend, Mo­hamed Ye­hyeh, shouted in a tear­ful re­buke. “There were three of you and now there’s one.”

“We never knew it would get so bad,” Ahmed replied. Even with Isil fac­ing mil­i­tary de­feat in the city, the men fear for the fu­ture. In­sur­gent at­tacks have shaken any no­tion that the vi­o­lence would end with the bat­tle. Mr Khalid re­opened a cos­met­ics store in east Mo­sul af­ter the lib­er­a­tion but stopped go­ing sev­eral weeks ago af­ter three sui­cide bombers in mil­i­tary uni­form det­o­nated them­selves nearby.

“Mo­sul will never be the same again,” he said. “There’s noth­ing to be op­ti­mistic about.” The men said the only way to re­store se­cu­rity was a thor­ough purge of Isil sup­port­ers.

“The best way is to build a camp out­side the city and they can all live there to­gether,” said Samir Ahmed Sofi. “Their ide­ol­ogy is like a can­cer and we don’t want it in­fect­ing us.”

Iraqi au­thor­i­ties ap­pear to share that sen­ti­ment. A closed “re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion camp” east of Mo­sul al­ready holds at least 170 fam­i­lies with rel­a­tives al­leged to be Isil mem­bers. Hu­man Rights Watch has called the camp a de facto de­ten­tion cen­tre, not­ing it lacked a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme or fa­cil­i­ties.

In the long term, the prospects for the city will also de­pend on the fed­eral govern­ment’s com­mit­ment to re­build­ing and the fu­ture be­hav­iour of the armed forces, whose abuses prior to 2014 stoked Isil sup­port.

“Peo­ple wel­comed Daesh be­cause they suf­fered so much be­fore when the army was here,” said Mr Sofi, us­ing an­other name for Isil.

“Right now, be­cause of what they saw un­der Daesh, the peo­ple of Mo­sul are very happy to see the army again. But if the army goes back to hurt­ing peo­ple that could change.”

A young boy who is be­lieved to be Chechen was found by Iraqi sol­diers eat­ing scraps of raw meat from the ground. The sol­diers said they killed an Isil fighter nearby

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