By Tony Gamal-Gabriel
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) July 14, 2017
Abdelrazaq Salman has lost everything but clings onto one last hope: finding the bodies of his family members killed when his home was bombed in Mosul's war-devastated Old City in northern Iraq.
"I had a little supermarket. I had worked hard from the age of 10 to build my house," the Iraqi Kurd in his 40s said, seated on a rubble-strewn pavement in front of storefronts riddled with bullets.
"Now there's nothing left except piles of stones."
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday declared second city Mosul fully retaken from the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group after a months-long operation.
But it is still near-impossible to access the Old City in central Mosul, where sweeping and demining operations continue.
Residents driven out by the fighting, which was at its fiercest in the Old City's warren of narrow streets, are trying to cross the roadblocks and return.
Salman wants to recover the bodies of five of his relatives, including his 90-year-old father, his mother, 70, and his 22-year-old younger brother.
"They got two bodies out, we're looking for the others," he said. Access to the public is forbidden but a friend who works for the municipality is inside.
"A rocket fell on my neighbour, he and his family are dead. The same with another neighbour. A friend lost his mother," Salman said.
- Deathly silence -
When he spoke of his three-year-old son, whom he has been taking to a psychologist, he burst into tears:
"He became aggressive. He has seen dead people. When his big sister asks him for something and he disagrees, he hits her with whatever he finds to hand," he said.
"I'm afraid that all these children will become criminals when they grow up."
A deathly silence hangs over the surrounding streets, occasionally torn by the roar of armoured vehicles rumbling at full throttle in and out of the Old City.
A convoy of Shiite-dominated paramilitary units known as the Hashed al-Shaabi was seen exiting the neighbourhood, playing military music through large speakers.
Salman together with his wife and six children have moved in with relatives in Dohok, near the Turkish border in Iraqi Kurdistan.
"At first, I hoped to come back, but now I don't think so," he said. "Why would I? For beautiful memories, or to witness all these misery?"
He was interrupted by Qassem Jassem, a former chef who had come over from east Mosul with his two uncles in the hopes of entering the Old City.
As he fled the district with his brother in May, he lost his four nephews. "We were running. An IS sniper shot them," he said in a flat voice.
-'No future in Iraq'-
He and his family still hope they will be able to move back to the Old City, which lies in the western sector.
But 700,000 civilians have been displaced by the battle for Mosul, and the United Nations says some neighbourhoods including the city's historic heart have been "almost totally destroyed".
"Our houses have been destroyed, but we want to stay there," said Ali Mohsen, one of Jassem's uncles.
"We're paying rent, and it's expensive. How long will we stay in exile?" the father of three children asked. "Physically, we're over there, but our entire soul is here."
Another resident, Ahmad, said he had tried his luck at entering the Old City to recover the bodies of relatives -- without success.
A week ago, when his two sisters were preparing to flee the neighbourhood at the height of the battle, their building was hit in an air strike.
"We lost one of my sisters, her husband and their son," he said.
The 26-year-old, who joined the Hashed al-Shaabi to fight IS, wore a tight-fitting black t-shirt and had gel in his closely-cropped hair.
"There's no future for us in Iraq," he said. "Especially for the young."
Videos appear to show killing, beatings by Iraq forces
Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group in Mosul earlier this week after a nearly nine-month battle that ravaged the city and took a heavy toll on residents and security forces.
The videos "appear to show Iraqi soldiers and federal police beating and extrajudicially killing detainees", the rights group said in a statement that included links to the clips, which were posted on Facebook.
In one video, men in Iraqi army uniforms beat a bearded detainee, drag him to the edge of a cliff, throw him off and shoot him and another body at the bottom.
HRW said it had located the site of the first video -- which appears to have been removed from Facebook but was circulated elsewhere online -- using satellite imagery, but was not able to confirm where three other clips were filmed.
Those videos, which show men in army and police uniforms beating detainees, were still viewable on Facebook, where they were posted by a man HRW said "regularly publishes information regarding security and military activities in and around Mosul".
"In the final weeks of the battle for west Mosul, I observed first-hand the desire of armed forces to get the battle wrapped up as quickly as possible," HRW's senior Iraq researcher Belkis Wille said.
This was accompanied by "what seems to be a resulting decline in their respect for the laws of war", she said, calling on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to launch investigations of abuses.
An Iraqi journalist embedded with the Rapid Response Division earlier in the operation reported that members of the special forces unit carried out torture, rapes and killings.
The journalist, who has since left Iraq, documented some of the abuses on film.
IS overran Mosul and swathes of other territory in the summer of 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since regained much of the territory they lost.
Widespread anger among Iraqi Sunni Arabs -- over issues including abuses by security forces -- helped aid the jihadist resurgence which culminated in the 2014 offensive.
Abuses by security forces now are likewise a boon to IS, which is likely to increasingly revert to bombings and hit-and-run attacks as its cross-border statehood project continues to fall apart.
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) July 10, 2017
Iraqi forces fought to eliminate the last pockets of Islamic State group resistance in Mosul on Monday after the premier visited the devastated city to congratulate troops on securing victory. With the jihadists surrounded in a sliver of territory in Mosul's Old City, attention was turning to the huge task of rebuilding the city and of helping civilians, with aid groups warning that Iraq's h ... read more
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