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Iraqi Forces Retake City Of Mosul From ISIS Fighters


The prime minister of Iraq was in the city of Mosul yesterday, congratulating Iraqi forces in their victory over ISIS. And today he formally declared victory. ISIS took the city of Mosul three years ago, and the battle to get it back has gone on for many months. The fight isn't totally over. There are still airstrikes by coalition forces and attacks on the ground.

Sally Becker of the aid organization Road to Peace was in Mosul over the weekend to help women and children. She's now back in the United Kingdom, and she's with us now. Thanks for joining us.


MCEVERS: How much time did you spend in Mosul?

BECKER: Well, we've been back and forth now since March, holding clinics in the streets as they took one section of the city. So we were able to then treat the children as they came out for the first time in two or three years to see a doctor. And we just treated them from the back of the ambulance. And then the last couple of weeks, we teamed up with Iraqi army medics in a trauma-stabilization point, and basically we've been bringing the injured to the stabilization point where they got treated by our pediatrician along with other medics and doctors who are there working to help the children and other injured individuals.

MCEVERS: Sounds like it's fair to say you were pretty close to the front line in this fight.

BECKER: Well, we were at times because we were having to actually take the ambulance into the old city to find the children, those that couldn't get out because they were injured. They obviously couldn't walk. And there were no ambulances going inside apart from local Iraqi organizations who are incredibly brave.

MCEVERS: It must have been dangerous to go into the old city like that, though, because I mean that's the - sort of the final part of this battle where it's thought that many ISIS fighters are still holed up.

BECKER: The whole area is dangerous, though. Being in 56 degrees centigrade, it was just so hot all the time - and the dust. We had drones that night coming over, people shooting into the sky, trying to shoot down the drones. The drones were sent by ISIS with cameras, you know, to try and find internationals.

Then on one of the days we were the mustering point, myself and the driver, taking as many men, women, children as we could - and all of a sudden, we saw a big cloud of dust but no vehicle to warrant the cloud. And my driver said to me, can you smell something? And I could. There was a strange smell in the air. He asked a soldier. The soldier said there's been a chemical attack. So he started to scream, come on; come on; get in the vehicle; we've got to go. And I realized there was a whole family stuck there. So of course we had to get the family into the ambulance first. We couldn't just leave them. So that meant three days with streaming eyes, streaming nose, pressure on the chest not quite knowing what we'd been hit with. But we had to continue because there was nobody else doing it.

So I've been in areas of war before. I've been in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, lots of places. I've experienced mortars, grenades, shelling. But I've never had the whole lot at once. I think I'm traumatized myself (laughter) from this particular mission. It was so hard, so difficult.

MCEVERS: What was it like for the people when you got into the old city?

BECKER: It's so bad. They're - all of them are malnourished. They all look like they've been starving for a long time. They're all dehydrated. Many of them are traumatized. Most of them don't show emotion because they're so shocked. You can just see there's nothing in their eyes, where they've seen and heard so much that they're not feeling anything anymore.

But at the same time, there's the odd individual that's really emotional. We came towards a group of people, and one of them was obviously the father of a family. He was an older man, and he looked to me and suddenly just broke down. And it was relief. He was just so relieved to see people who were there to help.

MCEVERS: And so when you hear, you know, officials declaring victory, what do you think?

BECKER: Well, its victory over ISIS I suppose to some extent. The Iraqi army have been fighting very hard, and they've lost a lot of men. So many soldiers have been killed. But for the people of Mosul, I don't think there's any victory. I just don't know how long it's going to take to put that city back together, to put the population back together. There's a generation lost most definitely.

MCEVERS: Sally Becker of the aid organization Road to Peace just returned from Mosul, Iraq. Thank you very much.

BECKER: Thank you.

MCEVERS: And we talked to Sally Becker on Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.