FRANCE 24's reporters went back to Mosul, almost three months after Iraqi forces liberated the country’s second city from the grip of the Islamic State (IS) group. The scene of the most violent urban warfare since World War II, Mosul suffered extensive damage. In the west of the city – among the ruins and landmines, and the group trauma of its inhabitants – life is gradually returning.
The bombings of the US-led coalition practically razed Mosul’s old city, now a no-go zone. Beneath the tons of rubble lie thousands of landmines and hundreds of bodies. The Al-Nuri Mosque, one of Mosul’s most famous monuments, was destroyed by the jihadists, who preferred to blow it up rather than concede victory to the Iraqi forces.
In the rest of West Mosul, one of the areas that suffered the most from the fighting, there is no water or electricity. The inhabitants do their best to get by from day to day. With the exception of a few shops, businesses are closed and there is no work to be had. The only option is to participate in the clean-up of the city, to carry rubble under a blazing sun for days at time for a few dinars. All of these people have a story to tell. Those who stayed in town lived for three long years under the jihadists' yoke.
Those three years are lost years, especially for the youngest. Schools remained open but no parents sent their children there, except those who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group. Ibrahim, a headmaster, saw his intake of pupils fall from 600 to just 12. The classes had become brainwashing sessions: the youngest children learned how to count ammunition and grenades, while the older ones studied geometry by calculating trajectories of mortar shells. Rebuilding the city is merely the beginning of the challenge ahead for Mosul.
To meet the residents of West Mosul, the only solution is to be escorted by the men of the federal police. Armed like soldiers and wearing helmets, they move only in groups, with armoured vehicles. In these conditions, it’s difficult to approach the thorny subject of sectarian tensions. But these tensions can be seen in the looks of the civilians and the attitude of the police.
Mosul is a predominantly Sunni city, which explains why the IS group was able to set up there so quickly in 2014. Back then, tensions between the Shiite central government – led at the time by Nuri al-Maliki – and the Sunni residents were at their peak.
Three years and a deadly war later, Mosul finds itself in the same situation: a Sunni city secured by mainly Shiite forces. The federal police display Iraqi flags on their armoured vehicles and do their best to appear neutral, but the mistrust is palpable and in some districts, the Shiite militias act as the real police.
Ultimately, some power-sharing arrangement will have to be found, otherwise violence could return to Mosul.