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World

Fight Against ISIS In Western Mosul To Begin After A Pause In Fighting

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Iraq, the eastern side of the city of Mosul was retaken from ISIS last month. The extremists are still holding onto the western side of that city, and Iraq security forces and their allies have paused now for a breath before beginning the next stage of their offensive.

NPR's Alice Fordham has been in eastern Mosul, and she joins us on the line from Erbil in northern Iraq. Alice, good morning.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: So what's it like in that city right now - in Mosul?

FORDHAM: Well, in some areas, you know, it's actually very striking how vibrant life is. There's a lot of people out on the streets. It feels very secure. There's heavy traffic, busy markets. People are sitting out chatting. Their children are playing. Some schools have reopened. There are people mending the roads.

And the contrast between this that I'm seeing here and the cities that I have seen in Iraq that have been retaken from ISIS over the last couple of years while I've been covering this story is very striking. In a lot of other places, the city was destroyed almost. And almost all the people have fled. So it's interesting and intriguing to see somewhere where life has come back so quickly.

GREENE: So what made the story in this city different then?

FORDHAM: Well, what it was, was the different tactics we used. The security forces made a huge effort to keep people from fleeing, partly because it's a huge city and it wasn't clear where all those people would go. And the security forces also attempted to move more slowly so as not to destroy so many of the buildings. You do see, you know, battered buildings in the city, bullet holes sprayed across walls and the occasional building that's just been pancaked by an airstrike. But a lot of it is livable.

GREENE: Livable, I guess, but people still living in a city where ISIS is controlling an area that is so, so close. So things can't feel all that normal.

FORDHAM: Right. Exactly. You don't forget it for very long. So as you said, ISIS is still controlling the western side of the city. On the other side of the Tigris River, they are firing rockets pretty indiscriminately from that bank, which is landing on the east side. And they're also using drones.

I met one lady, a teacher named Zainab (ph), who had stayed in her house throughout the fighting. And she pointed to me a house just a few doors down from hers where a family gathering had been targeted the day before by an ISIS drone, and several people were injured. And she also said to me that she was sure that there were still people living in their neighborhoods who had been with ISIS, who had supported ISIS. You know, there's a lot of fear and suspicion still.

GREENE: And what about basic needs, Alice? I mean, are people in the East getting food, supplies and so forth?

FORDHAM: It's a struggle. They are getting food in there. Electricity is cut off, which makes life difficult, but what's actually the most pressing thing for most people is water. So in the fighting, the main water pipe underneath the river was broken. And several pumping stations were also broken. And that means, you know, for hundreds of thousands of people living in eastern Mosul now, they don't have water supply.

And that might not seem like such a big deal after you've just survived a war and ISIS occupation, but there is actually, you know, problems getting enough drinking water sometimes. And obviously, it's not ideal not to have a sewage system. The U.N. is bringing in water, but it's a big city. It's difficult to supply, and the U.N. says that it will take a while to fix this.

GREENE: And, Alice, what about looking forward for life in eastern Mosul? I mean, the Iraqi security forces took back this part of the city from ISIS. Do people have confidence in those security forces? I mean, who's running things?

FORDHAM: Well, the army is currently in charge there. But they've delegated a lot of the local security to what's a bit of a motley array of security forces. Now, some of them are drawn from local people. So that's local police, local tribal fighters and another local armed group, which is actually backed by Turkey. And then there are national forces, the army and also the federal police, who've historically been extremely unpopular in Mosul.

But these national forces - the army and the federal police - they do seem to have made a huge effort during this offensive to win local people over, to overcome those old hostilities. And certainly talking to local people, it does seem there's more trust there.

But perhaps inevitably, when there's such a patchwork of forces, there is also grumbling, complaining, competition. Everyone wants more resources. So that's something to watch for as we go forward. Like, can they remain cohesive?

GREENE: OK, speaking to NPR's Alice Fordham, who's in northern Iraq and just returned from a reporting trip to Mosul. Alice, thanks a lot.

FORDHAM: Thanks for having me, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.