The battle for Mosul: urban warfare and civilian exodus – Reuters

 In World

A screaming father running down a rubble-strewn street in Mosul carrying his distressed daughter was one of the most powerful Reuters images taken during the Iraqi-led assault to remove Islamic State from its stronghold.

The nine-month offensive to recapture the northern city began in October, with thousands killed or displaced before Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory on Monday, three years after the militants seized the city.

Goran Tomasevic: “Both screaming in terror, the father and the young daughter he cradled in his arm fled through the rubble-strewn streets of Wadi Hajar, transformed in a flash into a battleground between Islamic State fighters and Iraqi special forces.

They and their neighbours – some wearing rubber sandals, some barefoot – were running from an IS counter-attack in this part of Mosul, dodging gunfire as the militants closed in.

When they reached the special forces lines, males were ordered to lift their shirts to prove they weren’t suicide bombers.

It’s become a common tactic for the militants to use suicide bombers, and the soldiers were firing their guns in the air to try to slow the residents down, shouting at them in Arabic.

A day earlier, Iraqi troops used bulldozers to move cars into a makeshift barricade aimed at protecting residents from suicide attacks in the area.

Civilians have been displaced in greater numbers in recent days, as the fighting in and around IS’s last strongholds in Mosul rages in residential neighborhoods where water, food and power have been rationed for months.

The father was so beside himself, so panicked. It was obvious because he had a short shirt on and was carrying a child that he wasn’t Islamic State. I believe they will both be taken to a refugee camp.”

. Qayyara, Iraq. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Zohra Bensemra: “The Iraqi army was on an offensive to reclaim territory around Mosul and the fighting forced thousands to flee their homes.

We went to a refugee centre at a school in Qayyara, south of Mosul and found hundreds of families who had fled Islamic State milling about chaotically outside the building. There wasn’t enough humanitarian aid for everyone and refugees were desperately jostling to grab aid packets being handed out while soldiers tried to calm the crowd.

I like this picture because you can see how exhausted the little girl is. As I took the photo, I thought this girl should be in school instead of queuing for food. She managed to escape Islamic State, but what does the future hold for her?”

. Qayyara, IRAQ. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
Goran Tomasevic: “I was covering the early days of the Iraqi army offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State when I received a tip that Iraqi soldiers were trying to stop militants escaping by hiding themselves among fleeing civilians.

I reached an area close to an army checkpoint in Qayyara, just east of Mosul where scores of men, women and children were sitting together in the desert sand, watched over by soldiers, awaiting transfer to buses and trucks bound for refugee camps. I

noticed soldiers separating one man out from the group and starting to interrogate him. It was clear they suspected he was a militant but I couldn’t find out more as there were no English speakers around. I tried to reel off some quick pictures at close range. But the soldiers got upset, blocking my camera and ordering me to leave the scene.

I quickly retreated for my own safety but lingered inconspicuously nearby. About 10 minutes went by during which the man was pushed into a shallow pit dug into the desert to hold prisoners near the refugee group.

By that point, I had circled quietly around to the opposite side of the pit and snapped the picture when the soldiers were not paying attention to me. I don’t know what happened to the militant as I had to leave soon afterwards to cover developments in the fighting.”

. Mosul, IRAQ. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
Goran Tomasevic: “I had been to the Tahrir district of eastern Mosul several times while covering the campaign by Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes to retake the city from Islamic State militants.

Covering battles is tough and in this case, it was difficult to get to the frontline at times, but on this day we managed. When we arrived it seemed calm and quiet.

Soon after a car blew up in a suicide bombing in an Islamic State counter-attack to the forces’ push into Mosul. There were casualties, children screaming, and several nearby houses were destroyed. There were also clashes.

I have covered many conflicts in my career, but what has struck me in Mosul is the number of car bombings.

The fighting comes in waves and when things eventually quietened down, I saw a group of civilians making the most of a break in gunfire to come out onto the streets.

They were both young and elderly, and felt safe enough to leave their homes with few belongings, walking carefully but calmly towards where I was standing capturing the scenes around me.

Suddenly an air strike targeted Islamic State positions a few hundred metres away behind them. It was close and total panic ensued. People were screaming, ducking and running away as the plumes of smoke rose nearby. They quickly ran for whatever shelter they could find.

I heard the plane just before the airstrike, and from experience knew I had little time. These things happen fast and you have to act quickly. First you have to make sure you are safe, then stay focused so you can get the shot. You get your lens ready and stay calm.

It was one airstrike and residents waited it out before finding other shelter. I eventually moved to another location to continue covering the fighting.”

. Mosul, IRAQ. Reuters/Alaa Al-Marjani
Alaa Al-Marjani: “I spotted four suspected Islamic State militants picked out of a group of displaced people by Iraqi soldiers.

The suspects had been identified by civilians working with the security forces and wearing masks to protect themselves from possible reprisal by IS. The suspects including the man in this picture were then tossed into the bed of a pickup truck.

My picture was significant for our story because it helped illustrate how some militants had secreted themselves among fleeing civilians in hopes of evading capture. Some of them trimmed their bushy beards and changed their clothes in efforts to blend in.

I had been covering developments on another front when I saw on social media that a large group of refugees was heading to this location. Not much was happening where I was so I changed cars and headed to the refugee gathering point. The way the suspects were being treated was abnormal so I felt it was very important to document this in pictures.

After I took this picture, a military intelligence officer tried to seize my camera and send me away. I was working together with a Reuters correspondent and security adviser, so the officer eventually desisted and allowed me to take further photos.

It can be difficult controlling your feelings when taking pictures right at the scene of gunfire and explosions. There is a lot of human suffering, but also a lot of competition with other agencies to get the best photograph in the shortest period of time.

My camera is very modern but internet access needed to file our pictures is difficult because most communications towers in the region are down.”

. Mosul, Iraq. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Zohra Bensemra: “I took this picture in a desert on the outskirts of Western Mosul of 90-year-old Khatla Ali Abdallah after she fled the battle for Mosul.

Her fearful eyes red with fatigue, Khatla was so exhausted she could not stand or even sit properly. She looked to me like she had not eaten or drank water for a long time. The moment was so emotional that I had tears in my eyes when I photographed Khatla. I felt bad because I could not do anything for her apart from taking pictures to show the world the agony and torment of people trying to flee Mosul to safety. 

I was sad too, imagining this woman as my own grandmother and feeling helpless to make her comfortable. When you face such a moment, you always think that it could happen to anyone of us. But despite all, Khatla looked beautiful to me, almost as if every wrinkle on her face told a story.

I was fortunate to find her a few days later in a refugee camp after showing people my photograph of her.

She has survived decades of turbulence in northern Iraq. She told me “the fighting there is the worst I have ever seen”.

She had been carried across the desert by her grandsons, under sniper and mortar fire, one of thousands who braved the difficult and dangerous journey out of Islamic State’s shrinking stronghold in western Mosul.

Khatla made me smile when she expressed her remorse about her 20 chickens she had to leave behind. She had looked after them even while hiding from crossfire in her house’s basement. Despite all the terror she experienced under IS rule, it had not destroyed her humanity – she said, ‘Even animals deserve life.'”

. Mosul, IRAQ. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
Goran Tomasevic: “I shot this picture while accompanying an Iraqi counter-terrorism military unit on a probe into an inner-city district of western Mosul held by Islamic State. I had spent some time “embedded” with the counter-terrorism force so they were relaxed in my presence and allowed me to follow every step of their advance.

On this particular day we were moving slowly on foot through narrow side streets, with soldiers searching house-to-house to gradually clear the way forward.

Recent Posts
Get Breaking News Delivered to Your Inbox
Join over 2.3 million subscribers. Get daily breaking news directly to your inbox as they happen.
Your Information will never be shared with any third party.
Get Latest News in Facebook
Never miss another breaking news. Click on the "LIKE" button below now!