After months of fighting, Iraqi forces have retaken Ramadi from the Islamic State (IS) group. But Iraq’s third city is now a ghost town, riddled with mines and booby traps left by the jihadists. The people of Ramadi have to wait before they can return home, forced to live in sprawling refugee camps on the edge of town. Our reporters met the soldiers who liberated Ramadi and followed the bomb-disposal experts as they worked to make it habitable again.
When we arrive in Ramadi by air, we are in for a shock. We certainly expected to see a damaged city, but it’s a field of ruins that we fly over. Our helicopter lands at the university, in front of a facade gutted by a coalition air strike. Crossing the town centre requires an escort, although it is deserted.
On foot, in the streets, the heavy silence is only broken by the noise of some distant gunfire and explosions. There are still pockets of IS group fighters in the northern suburbs of Ramadi. The rest of the city is held by Iraqi forces but an infiltration is still possible. We don’t have time to hang around and we have to film quickly. We let our drone fly for a few minutes to capture some aerial images.
Fifteen million dollars needed to clear mines
Major Mohammed has his eye on his watch because if there is a problem, he will be held responsible. He shows us the tunnels dug by the IS group fighters and the booby traps they have left in the houses. He makes us follow in his footsteps, as the area is not yet fully cleared. In this city full of booby traps, no building has been spared. Those still standing are pockmarked by bullets and shells.
The UN estimates that clearing Ramadi of mines alone will cost 15 million dollars. Bomb disposal experts are working relentlessly so that the population can return.
But the harsh reality is that the 500,000 displaced people will not return home any time soon. And it will take a long time for a semblance of normal life to return one day to the streets of Ramadi.
An exclusive report by James André, Amar Al Hameedawi and Khalil Bechir for FRANCE 24.