In Mosul, the war is never over, even when the shooting stops

Text and Photography by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo

MOSUL, Iraq – Mohammed looks out the dirty back window of the Civil Defense ambulance. He holds firmly to the gate, eager to get outside in order to start his quest. Like most of Mosul’s citizens, he wants to take back the dead bodies of his relatives. He didn’t have the chance to carry them with him — he ran away before an airstrike hit his neighborhood. They deserve to rest in peace even while more bombs rain down.

As the battle for Mosul nears its end, it gets more violent and access becomes more dangerous. Watch your steps — thousands of invisible booby traps lie in wait. The sounds of mortars and bombs echo a path of destruction. A river of civilians fleeing from the ashes and devastation evokes the last moments of the caliphate’s terror. There are dead bodies of ISIS fighters on every corner, and the streets are littered with the dust-covered belongings left behind by those who fled or were killed. Traumatized and confused faces, skinny and naked bodies, survivors of famine, isolation and hate… It’s almost 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The air seems to melt hope and life. Prove that you are not part of ISIS, then enjoy your long-awaited, so-called freedom inside a refugee camp. Fail to prove your innocence to the satisfaction of your interrogators, and you will embrace your freedom from the inside of a cell.

A broken ISIS watch found on a body seems to evoke the long-awaited end of the operation started on Oct. 17. It’s almost there, but the nightmare is not finished. The city is devastated and its wounds may never heal. Hundreds of prisoners still wait to be interrogated, thousands remain displaced: The war doesn’t end with the last bullet, or when the flag is raised.

It took just days for ISIS to take Mosul in June 2014 but more than eight months for it to be retaken by Iraqi forces backed by militias and a U.S.-led coalition. Sectarian tension has increased as war has left Mosul in ruins. Iraq faces a terrible humanitarian crisis, with more than 1 million civilians displaced. The spectre of a new civil war is knocking on doors, while the spotlight points to Raqqa as the media’s next meeting point. Could Iraq be forgotten soon? The future of millions is written in the blood that streams from the unhealed wounds of years of warfare.

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Dispatches from Mosul

A women cries hopelessly on the streets of Mosul. July 2, 2017. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

Mohammed looks through the window of a civil defense rescue team vehicle while on his way to find his relatives killed after an airstrike in Mosul. West Mosul. Iraq. July 2, 2017. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

In Mosul, the war is never over, even when the shooting stops

Dispatches from Mosul

A relative of Sabija, who suffers from blood pressure problems, cries disconsolately inside a medical clinic after fleeing the old city of Mosul , Iraq. July 2, 2017. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

A view of the old city of Mosul on fire after an ISIS counterattack along the northern edge of Mosul’s Old City neighborhood. July 7, 2017. Mosul. Iraq. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

Iraqi civilians flee through a street as Iraqi special forces continued their advance. A huge number of civilians have emerged from Mosul’s rubble starving, injured and traumatized. Mosul. Iraq. July 2, 2017. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

An injured young girl cries disconsolately while she is receiving medical treatment after fleeing the old city of Mosul, Iraq. July 2, 2017. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

In Mosul, the war is never over, even when the shooting stops

Dispatches from Mosul

A civil defense team holds the dead body of an Iraqi woman killed after a female suicide bomber blows herself up in Mosul, just a few meters far away from Al Noor Mosque. West Mosul. Iraq. July 2, 2017. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

A group of refugees from Mosul after being checked by the Intelligence Officers in Haman Al-Alil on their way to the refugee camps. Haman Al-Alil, Iraq. June 29, 2017. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

A suspected ISIS member is being interrogated before sending him to Intelligence almost 250 meters from the Tigris River, in the western half of Mosul. The Tigris divides the city roughly into its western and eastern half, which was liberated from IS militants. West Mosul. Iraq. July 3, 2017. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

Iraqi´s soldiers are seen while they threaten an old man coming from the old city that tries to get access to a field hospital. July 2, 2017. Mosul. Iraq. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

An Iraqi solder is seen in a path of destruction at Mosul’s Old City neighborhood. July 7, 2017. Mosul. Iraq. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

A dead body of an ISIS´s militant lies on the floor in an alley as Iraqi forces continue their advance against Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. July 7, 2017. Mosul. Iraq. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

Close-up of a ISIS´s watch found on a dead militant. West Mosul. Iraq. July 3, 2017. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

A young Iraqi stands while he waits with his family to be sent in a truck to a refugee camp in Haman al Alil. Iraq. July 3, 2017. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)

Dispatches from Mosul

Mosul´s citizens try to get back to normality in the liberated area of West Mosul, close to Mosul’s Old City neighborhood. July 7, 2017. Mosul. Iraq. (Photograph by Diego Ibarra Sánchez / MeMo)