As the fight for liberation in Mosul continues, Sami, a Mosul-native based in the U.S., shared his family and friends' experiences of living under the Islamic State. Sami uses the Arabic name for ISIS, Daesh, throughout the interview.
In a country where sectarian divide is prominent, the residents of Mosul, the majority of whom are Sunni Arabs, were hopeful for positive change with a transition of power. However, the brutality of ISIS quickly diminished that hope.
"At the beginning, no one knew what [ISIS] was going to be like," Sami said. "Before Daesh, the people in Mosul were living under siege by the military from Baghdad. When Daesh came, they were willing to accept anybody as a form of relief."
Two and a half years later, the relief is all but nonexistent. The lives of those who remain in Mosul are constantly at risk.
"Daesh were on the street trying to bomb a car when civilian forces saw them," Sami said. "The airplanes hit them with the missile, but what ended up happening was that the family in the house was under the stairs hiding, afraid of the missiles. Unfortunately, the house set on fire and burned. There was no water, and the woman was watching her husband and four-year-old son burning and there is no water in the city to stop the fire. The lady was sitting in the house for hours, watching a dead husband and child in front of her and no one could even reach to the lady to get her out until the fire calmed down."
Around the time that ISIS had taken control of Mosul, Sami had been planning on returning to his hometown and visiting his family. But he was unaware of a newly-implemented curfew and only made it as far as Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, fifty miles outside his hometown.
After Sami's visit during the early period of ISIS control, the militancy of the group grew. The days in which they would insult men who did not grow out their beards and harass women who did not cover their bodies seemed harmless relative to the brutality ISIS began to take on a few months into power.
"They would take over houses," Sami said. "They took over my niece's home. She and her family were kicked out of their home at 10 p.m. while it was raining heavily and had to walk to another relative's house, where she, her husband, and her kids stayed for a month and a half. She returned as recent as a week ago to find her house wide open with all her belongings scattered all over. Her doors and windows are completely broken."
Sami recalled how members of ISIS forcefully entered people's homes seeking refuge from the state military.
"My sister's house was hit by an F-16 while she was praying at 6:30 in the morning," said Sami. "Luckily none of the people were in her house; but if it landed one-meter closer, everyone would have died."
Another of Sami's sisters, who is 80 years old, is worried not only about her home being hit by missiles but also from her home being taken over by ISIS militants. Protecting her home, in a city that is mostly destroyed, has proven to be challenging.
Sami described how his sister came home one day to find strangers in her kitchen. These strangers, she soon discovered, were ISIS militants, who refused to leave until she provided proof that the home was indeed hers. They returned a week later.
With the ongoing conflict in the city, Sami's family members from both sides of Mosul have at times been unable to communicate with one another, rendering him as the main contact of communication and purveyor of news occurring from each side of the river.
"I've been the point of communication for my family in eastern and western Mosul, having phones over there is a risk," Sami said. "A family friend's son thought he was safe to make a call in his backyard, but the house next door was being occupied by Daesh. They dragged him out of his house and executed him."
According to Sami, there is no running water in the city, all civilians of Mosul are rushed to Erbil. But as of recently, even this has proven difficult due to the increased presence of Kurdish forces. The only option is to make the difficult trek to Baghdad about 200 miles away, and from there, to Erbil. A few of Sami's friends who opted for this route have since disappeared and have not been heard from for over a year.
Sami's family in Western Mosul tell him that ISIS militants have set up in preparation for the offensive that is forthcoming. The battle over Mosul will continue, and it is unknown when it will end. Whether or not the people of Mosul will know true liberation is uncertain. But their longing for the end of this bloody siege brings enough hope for the residents of Mosul, caught in the crossfire of a harrowing nightmare, to wake up and live one day closer to a safer Iraq.
Reach Staff Reporter Muhammad Yusuf Tarr here.