IRAQ

How Mosul’s young people are leading a clean-up effort after the departure of IS

Volunteers clean up the neighbourhoods in the eastern part of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. (Facebook)
Volunteers clean up the neighbourhoods in the eastern part of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. (Facebook)

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Life is slowly getting back to normal for people living in the eastern part of Mosul after the zone was liberated from the clutches of the Islamic State group, the Iraqi army and its allies on January 18. In the days since liberation, our Observer has rolled up his sleeves and got to work cleaning up the rubble-littered streets and erasing signs of the occupation. He also wants to rebuild tolerance in his community by raising awareness about what he considers to be the “true” Islam — a religion much more moderate than the bloody, hateful extremism preached by the IS group.

More than two million people were living in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, when it fell to the IS group in June 2014. Last month, the Iraqi army managed to recapture all of the neighbourhoods in east Mosul. However, the IS group still controls the neighbourhoods to the west of the Tigris River, which divides the city in two. So, in recent days, the river has become the frontline of the battle between the IS group and the Iraqi army.

Our Observer, Mahmoud Chaker, lives in Zohor, a residential neighbourhood in eastern Mosul. He says life in this part of the city “seems almost normal these days.” Chaker teamed up with two friends to launch a campaign on social media to inspire residents to clean up and rebuild their rubble-filled neighbourhoods. Their slogan is "Make Mosul more beautiful".

“We erased graffiti that showed beheadings”

Even though the battles are still raging only a few kilometres from here, we finally feel safe. People are back to work, shops have opened back up and the streets are filled with cars again.

Many buildings and the roads were damaged during the fighting. I really wanted to contribute to the reconstruction of the city. So, I teamed up with two friends to launch a clean-up campaign on social media. Armed with brooms, buckets and wheelbarrows, we started our clean-up operation on January 26.

Our first project was a maternity ward in the Sokkar neighbourhood, which had been set ablaze in early January. About a hundred young people came to work on this building. In two days, we were able to renovate the emergency room, the X-ray department, the administrative department as well as the pharmacy. We restored electricity to the building and brought in medicine.

Young volunteers rebuild a maternity ward in Mosul. Facebook.

Next, we cleaned up the Zohor neighbourhood. We also went to Muthanna, a business district that was covered with debris from damaged buildings. The residents were so happy to see us working. They encouraged us and brought us cake and refreshments.

Volunteers clean the streets in east Mosul. Facebook.

Volunteers take part in a clean-up operation in the Muthanna business district. Facebook.

We swept up the rubble in the streets. We also erased the graffiti painted on the walls by the IS militants. They graffitied walls and buildings all over the city, leaving behind horrific drawings. The worst one I saw shows an IS militant beheading a man. Another crude drawing shows an IS militant brandishing the organisation’s flag while standing on the Iraqi constitution. During the occupation, we’d sometimes see militants spray painting these horrific designs on walls, but they’d always hide their faces with a veil so it was impossible to identify them.

Volunteers erase drawings left by members of the IS organisation. Facebook.

In the coming days, we want to expand our clean-up operation to other neighbourhoods. We still can’t get too close to the river, because artillery shells often land in these areas. One of my aunts lives on the other side of the river, in terrority occupied by the IS group, and my family is really worried about her because we haven’t been able to get in contact with her for the past few days.

However, I am so encouraged to see that all of the schools in east Mosul will be reopening next week. We want to go to the schools in order to preach tolerance and raise awareness about the true values of Islam. Our aim is to visit classrooms to explain to the children that the Islam preached by the IS group is not the real Islam and that, instead, you need to reject violence and accept other people, even if their religious beliefs differ from yours.