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World

Devastation Overshadows Celebration As Iraqi Forces Liberate Mosul

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Iraqi government has declared the city of Mosul liberated from ISIS after nine months of heavy fighting. While life is returning to parts of the city, there is little celebration in its western neighborhoods. They were the last to be liberated, and civilians are discovering the devastation left behind. NPR's Jane Arraf reports from Mosul.

MANAL IDREES: (Foreign language spoken).

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: I'm walking with Manal down these streets that used to be her neighborhood. Mosul is gone, she's telling me. And everywhere you look, there's destruction. There isn't a single house standing here. We're weaving our way between exploded cars. The street itself is broken, and we're walking over rubble.

The rubble is the broken concrete blocks of her house and the houses of her neighbors. Manal Idrees can't believe what she's seeing.

IDREES: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: She's saying, "come and see Mosul. Come and see what's happened to it."

IDREES: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: This used to be a place where visitors would come because it was so beautiful, and now she's saying...

IDREES: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: "...Come and see what's happened to it. It's all destroyed."

IDREES: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: The buildings, though, are the least of it. Manal has come back to find the body of her son Fahad. She says he was beheaded by ISIS two months ago because her four brothers were policemen. A neighbor buried him in the garden.

IDREES: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

IDREES: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: In the garden, there are five graves, each covered with a pile of broken concrete. It turns out they're neighbors who were killed in an airstrike. Her son is buried somewhere else.

IDREES: (Foreign language spoken, crying).

ARRAF: Manal is inconsolable. She calls out to her dead son to tell her where he is.

IDREES: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: The Iraqi government has declared Mosul liberated, but you can still hear fighter jets and see smoke rising. They're not letting civilians come back to these neighborhoods because away from the cleared streets, there are unexploded bombs and bodies that haven't been recovered. Cats dart in and out of the ruins. Manal decides to wait and come back with the neighbor who buried her son.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

ARRAF: As we leave, the policemen with us tests a loaded revolver he found in one of the houses. Another policeman has found a musical instrument missing most of its strings.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: He says they will have a party to celebrate the liberation. Their celebration is also tempered with sorrow. Several thousand security forces are believed to have been killed in the fight for Mosul.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: "Don't let people forget our casualties," a soldier tells me.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: One of the officers says in his battalion of 800 men, half of them were either killed or wounded.

(CROSSTALK)

ARRAF: At a civil defense base in west Mosul, families arrive to try to identify bodies. Um Furas stands in the parking lot in front of a body bag as a worker zips it open. She recognizes her granddaughter Neba (ph), who is 1 and a half, lying under the body of her daughter. Another daughter and four daughters-in-law were also killed.

The civil defense workers here watched Prime Minister Abadi declare victory on television. The commander here says his workers alone have recovered more than 1,000 bodies in the last three months, most of them families and many of them killed in airstrikes. He's expecting many more bodies. There's relief here that the battle is almost over but no celebration with so many people still in mourning. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Mosul.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We give an incorrect name for Manal Idrees' son. He is Wissam, not Fahad.]

(SOUNDBITE OF IF THESE TREES COULD TALK SONG, "THE GIVING TREE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: July 20, 2017 at 12:00 AM EDT
We give an incorrect name for Manal Idrees' son. He is Wissam, not Fahad.