MOSUL, Iraq — A black Humvee speeds down a dusty road in eastern Mosul carrying two boys: one is dead, and the other’s leg has been torn open by the same mortar strike. “Save me, save me!” yells 12-year-old Mohammed, his legs covered in blood, as two men carry him from the armored vehicle to a green canvas cot at a dusty, open air field hospital. It’s too late for Shafiq, 15, who was standing with Mohammed when the mortar rounds struck. He died of his wounds on the way to the field hospital. After a relatively quiet afternoon Sunday, a sudden boom rattled the Al-Samah neighborhood, which elite Iraqi forces say they have cleared of Islamic State group militants. Minutes later, the dust-covered Humvee arrived with the two boys.
Mortar rounds “hit one right after the other. Mohammed and Shafiq were the first ones to fall,” he says, wiping his bloodied hands on his pants. Shafiq’s body is taken off a black stretcher, covered and placed on the ground between two ambulances. “Just let me kiss him,” his father says, pushing his way through to bid his son goodbye.
The attack is a bloody reminder to civilians in areas in Mosul recaptured from IS — many of whom are trying to return to a semblance of normal life — that they are still very much in danger. On the eastern edge of Mosul, the target of a massive Iraqi military operation launched on Oct. 17, men wait outside a barber shop where some have their IS-mandated beards shaved or goatees trimmed. They murmur in agreement when the hairdresser says he is glad IS has been kicked out of their district, but refuse to speak to the press as many still had family in jihadist-controlled parts of the city. In Arbajiyah, which the elite Counter-Terrorism Services (CTS) retook from IS on Saturday, scrawny children venture out to find tea and bread. Several gather outside Souq al-Mahdi, a tiny convenience store that reopened the day CTS forces moved into the neighborhood. The heavy clashes and shelling that have hit Arbajiyah in recent days kept Abu Saeed at home and the metal gate outside his shop firmly closed. “Then when we were liberated, life came back to normal and we reopened,” he says. But “normal” is clearly relative — Abu Saeed keeps his shop open only for a few minutes at a time, and most of his customers are Iraqi special forces soldiers with weapons slung over their shoulders.