Some opt for risk of stay­ing in Iraq’s Mo­sul

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND WORLD - By Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske

MO­SUL, Iraq — Yasser Mah­moud car­ried a white flag, along with a small sup­ply of rice, bread and wa­ter, as he re­turned to this city un­der siege.

The 35-year-old pho­tog­ra­pher had talked with friends who’d fled to dis­placed persons camps, and he found their sto­ries of long lines for food and sup­plies alarm­ing.

“If you need to do any­thing, you have to wait in a line,” he said of the camps, which have ex­panded and mul­ti­plied since troops en­tered the city last week.

So as Mo­sul emp­ties — more than 49,000 have fled the city of 1.2 mil­lion since the of­fen­sive be­gan last month — an­other stream of peo­ple skirt the gun­fire, mor­tar blasts and sui­cide at­tacks as they trudge to neigh­bor­ing vil­lages for sup­plies and medicine, then wade back into the may­hem, car­ry­ing white flags and shop­ping bags as they head home.

Stay­ing is risky. Is­lamic State mil­i­tants have ex­e­cuted 40 civil­ians in the city, hang­ing vic­tims’ bod­ies on elec­tri­cal poles, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. The army has ad­vanced to sev­eral neigh­bor­hoods be­yond Zahra in eastern Mo­sul, but only moved for­ward about half a mile this weekend, ac­cord­ing to spe­cial forces com­man­ders.

A mass grave re­cently dis­cov­ered by Iraqi troops south of the city con­tained more than 100 bod­ies, one of sev­eral Is­lamic State “killing grounds,” U.N. spokes­woman Rav­ina Sham­dasani said at a brief­ing in Geneva last week.

Sham­dasani said mil­i­tants are re­port­edly stock­pil­ing large amounts of am­mo­nia and sul­fur in the city, plac­ing them among civil- Iraqi civil­ians head by truck to a camp Mon­day as they flee an em­bat­tled neigh­bor­hood in eastern Mo­sul. ians for pos­si­ble use as chem­i­cal weapons. At­tack­ers with ex­plo­sive belts are be­ing de­ployed in the al­ley­ways of Old Mo­sul, she said, and women have been ab­ducted and “dis­trib­uted” to fight­ers or told they will be used to ac­com­pany mil­i­tant con­voys.

Mo­sul taxi driver Ab­dul Mon­han Faris, 26, was in his garage hav­ing break­fast Thurs­day when a mor­tar struck, killing him. Faraz Mun­ther helped sol­diers re­move his friend’s body from Zahra.

“Our neigh­bor­hood is free, but we have mor­tars com­ing from Qa­disiya and Tahrir,” he said, re­fer­ring to ad­ja­cent ar­eas of eastern Mo­sul.

Yasser Mah­moud was among those un­will­ing or un­able to aban­don their homes in the face of such per­ilous ur­ban war­fare.

Two weeks ago, Is­lamic State fight­ers at­tacked his house to the west of Zahra in the early morn­ing, break­ing down the door, search­ing his photo stu­dio, raid­ing the re­frig­er­a­tor and camp­ing out. When they left, Mah­moud went into hid­ing in Zahra, leav­ing be­hind his wife and two chil­dren, ages 10 and 6.

His wife doesn’t have a cell­phone or in­ter­net ac­cess — both banned by Is­lamic State — so Mah­moud put aside any thought of flee­ing.

“I still don’t know any­thing about my fam­ily,” he said. “If I did, I might go.”

Ahmed Has­san and his friends also joined the risky car­a­van to a gro­cery store from eastern Mo­sul. Bearded but wearing Ree­bok track pants and Nike sweat­shirts — out­lawed brands on the streets of Mo­sul un­der Is­lamic State — they re­turned home with a sin­gle jar of tahini, all they could find on the bare market shelves.

De­spite food short­ages in the city, Has­san, 30, was re­luc­tant to flee with his three chil­dren.

“I don’t want to take my fam­ily to the camps,” he said. “They won’t be able to stand it.”

But if the vi­o­lence con­tin­ues, he said, they may re­con­sider.

“It’s been 11 days since our neigh­bor­hood was freed, and they’re still mor­tar­ing,” said His­han Mohammed, 24, a lo­cal bar­ber.

The mor­tar and sniper at­tacks have shaken the al­ready-chaotic lives of those who live in Mo­sul. Shops and street mar­kets were still shut­tered in Zahra on Satur­day.

CHRIS MCGRATH/GETTY

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