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Mosul's once-thriving Old City now a grey wasteland
By Tony Gamal-Gabriel
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) July 11, 2017

UN rights chief urges justice and healing after Mosul
Geneva (AFP) July 11, 2017 - UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called Tuesday for accountability and dialogue to heal the trauma of Mosul after Iraqi troops retook the country's second city from the Islamic State group.

Zeid demanded that offenders be brought to justice and all violations thoroughly probed, and urged Iraq to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"The root causes of violence and conflict in Iraq need to be addressed in terms of human rights violations suffered by all communities in the country over several decades. Only then can secure foundations be laid for the lasting peace that the Iraqi people deserve," Zeid said.

"(...) Dialogue between communities needs to begin now to try to halt the cycle of violence, and to promote accountability for the crimes against Iraqis."

Iraqi forces launched their campaign in October. The city was seized by the jihadists during a 2014 offensive that also saw them take control of large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

"The women, children and men of Mosul have lived through hell on earth, enduring a level of depravity and cruelty that is almost beyond words," Zeid said.

"ISIL forced tens of thousands of people from their homes in and around the city and used them as human shields, a war crime under international humanitarian law and a violation of the most basic standards of human dignity and morality," he said.

He said other rights abuses included the sexual slavery of women and girls and the "abduction of 1,636 women and girls, and 1,733 men and boys from the Yezidi community who remain unaccounted for."

Zeid also cautioned that although the IS had been ousted, their "fighters can still terrify and kill through bombings and abductions, and people are still being subjected to daily horrors and suffering in remaining ISIL strongholds."

Once the beating heart of Iraq's second-largest metropolis, the Old City of Mosul is now a broken wreck, its winding streets piled high with rubble and hardly a building spared from destruction.

After months of gruelling battles to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, the Old City has become a bleak landscape of gutted buildings, crumbling concrete and pockmarked mosque domes.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared Mosul finally retaken on Monday, as his forces fought to recapture a last sliver of territory still held by the jihadists in the Old City on the west bank of the Tigris River.

But the cost of that victory has reduced a once-thriving urban hub to a grey wasteland.

Residential low-rises that once housed families and shops have been flattened or blasted into empty shells.

Burned-out cars sat on top of each other in craters, as armoured cars, mechanical diggers and ambulances jostled for space on the narrow streets.

The bodies of dead jihadists lay on the road, covered by blankets.

In some buildings, remnants of life remained, once-private domestic scenes exposed when walls were torn away.

A room seems to float above the ruins, a clock hanging from the wall and an indoor plant sitting in a corner. Iron cooking pots and electric kettles sat amid the rubble.

- 'The battle is over' -

On Monday, fighters with Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service were battling to dislodge the last jihadist holdouts from a handful of buildings in the Old City.

Clouds of smoke rose above the city as air strikes hit down, the crackle of gunfire echoing through the streets.

"In reality, the battle is already over," Colonel Salam Jassem Hussein told AFP. "There are only a few groups of terrorists left."

Draining cans of Red Bull, Hussein oversaw the fighting with his arm in a sling after he was wounded in combat. On his neck a bandage used to hide another wound kept coming unstuck in the stifling heat.

Fighters climbed abandoned buildings at his command, taking up positions with sniper rifles and machineguns.

In the courtyard of the ancient Nuri mosque, the venerable building blown up by IS as Iraqi forces advanced, the air filled with an appetising smell as volunteers prepared skewers of meat for Iraqi forces.

They worked just a few steps from where Mosul's iconic leaning minaret -- also destroyed by IS -- once rose over the Old City and a few ancient columns still stood, decorated in calligraphy citing verses of the Koran.

Iraqi forces push to clear last pockets of IS in Mosul
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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