In eastern Mo­sul, small signs of progress amid the fight­ing

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATIONAL & WORLD -

By The As­so­ci­ated Press

Small stalls and carts have sprung up out­side the bombed-out build­ings in eastern Mo­sul, sell­ing meat and veg­eta­bles, cig­a­rettes and cell­phones to the thou­sands of civil­ians still liv­ing in neigh­bor­hoods where the Iraqi mil­i­tary has driven out the Is­lamic State group.

As the grind­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion en­ters its fourth month, about a third of the north­ern city is un­der govern­ment con­trol. While more than 100,000 peo­ple have fled the fight­ing, many have re­mained de­spite no elec­tric­ity or run­ning wa­ter.

Zaid Khaled sells frozen chicken from a stall in the main traf­fic cir­cle in the Za­hour neigh­bor­hood. Ev­ery morn­ing, he takes a bus to the east­ern­most edge of Mo­sul to buy poul­try in a mar­ket.

Be­cause there’s no power, he must sell his whole sup­ply each day or lose money.

“Slowly, as peo­ple are able to go back to work, life will re­turn to nor­mal, step by step,” he said.

On the edge of the neigh­bor­hood, hun­dreds of peo­ple must cross a makeshift bridge to buy food and wa­ter, or reach med­i­cal aid.

Isam Fathi You­nis lives just a few blocks from the front line. He wheeled his el­derly mother across the bridge Thurs­day in search of a doc­tor af­ter she be­gan to have trou­ble breath­ing.

His fam­ily waited in their home for days be­fore fight­ing sub­sided enough to ven­ture out on the streets, he said.

On Tues­day, Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati told The As­so­ci­ated Press the whole city could be re­cap­tured from the Is­lamic State in an­other three months, or less.

When the op­er­a­tion be­gan in Oc­to­ber, Iraqi lead­ers had pre­dicted they would re­take the city be­fore 2017 be­gan, but progress has been slow amid fierce coun­ter­at­tacks from the ex­trem­ists.

Al­though buses, taxis and pri­vate cars have be­gun to clog the streets, ar­mored ve­hi­cles wind through the traf­fic in a re­minder that the bat­tle is not far away.

One group of sol­diers car­ried a me­tal chair — a seem­ingly or­di­nary ob­ject un­til a closer look re­vealed that cuf­flike re­straints had been welded to its arms and legs. The sol­diers said they re­cov­ered it from an Is­lamic State prison.

“They used this for tor­ture,” said spe­cial forces Col. Ali Ke­nani. “The clamp was used to hold a fin­ger like this,” slip­ping his hand into the vise on the end of one of the arms. “Find­ing things like this in Mo­sul is nor­mal.”

Shop­pers and mer­chants said the signs of life re­turn­ing to some of the streets were pre­car­i­ous: Mar­kets like this one still get hit by mor­tar rounds, and the en­tire city is with­out es­sen­tial govern­ment ser­vices.

Khaled, the young man sell­ing chicken, said that three days be­fore, a shell landed a block from where he was stand­ing and killed three peo­ple.

The Iraqi mil­i­tary en­forces a sun­down cur­few. The un­cer­tain se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion and lim­ited ac­cess to food and wa­ter in Mo­sul still force thou­sands to flee each week.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple were massed Thurs­day in far eastern Mo­sul, un­der­go­ing screen­ing be­fore be­ing shut­tled to dis­place­ment camps.

An­war Ali Hus­sein ini­tially fled to a nearby neigh­bor­hood af­ter airstrikes and mor­tar rounds be­gan hit­ting the streets out­side her home. She tried to wait out the fight­ing, but the few safe dis­tricts quickly filled up.

“In each house, it was 20 peo­ple or more,” she said, “and there was never enough food. Only peo­ple with lots of money can af­ford to buy from the mar­kets in­side Mo­sul now.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In an area of Mo­sul that re­cently was cleared of miliants, men push a mo­tor­cy­cle cart loaded with a fam­ily’s pos­ses­sions. The bridge was de­stroyed by the Is­lamic State.

In a newly lib­er­ated area, Iraqi spe­cial forces sol­diers dis­play a chair they say mil­i­tants used to tor­ture peo­ple.

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