Villages and entire cities in former Islamic State-controlled areas of Iraq lie in ruins after months and sometimes years of airstrikes, mortars, suicide bombers and heavy gunfire.
In recent days, a story has emerged about a particularly horrific event, with some reports putting the civilian death toll at more than 100.
Local media say an airstrike hit a truck loaded with explosives in an area of Mosul packed by IS militants with civilian “human shields.”
Coalition forces responded to calls for an investigation, saying it “opened a formal civilian casualty credibility assessment,” and Iraqi officials say they are pausing operations to assess strategies to prevent further civilian casualties.
The disaster was reported in a neighborhood called New Mosul, or Mosul Jadida, cut off to journalists on Saturday and largely controlled by Iraqi forces on the front lines fighting IS.
Less than two kilometers away, only a few civilians venture out of their homes as missiles fly overhead, and IS gunfire pounds at Iraqi helicopters in the air. Even this close to New Mosul, civilians and soldiers say they don’t know exactly what happened.
One small family, Mohammad, 50, and his wife, Atheel, 40, invite us into their borrowed home, saying they, too, don’t know what happened in New Mosul, but they do know what it is like to survive an airstrike. This is the story of the day their home was hit, and the day they lost everything.
Mohammad: It was a holiday about six months ago, before Iraqi forces entered Mosul. We had lived in our home on the east side of Mosul for eight years.
We had finished lunch and my wife was in the kitchen cleaning up. I heard an airstrike hit the university across the street. I thought, “Thank God, it didn’t hit us.” I went to take a nap.
As I closed the bedroom door, another strike hit our house.The door flew off its hinges and slammed me back.
I was in the bathroom when the next airstrike hit. This time, it was the roof of my house. It was so dusty that I couldn’t see anything, so I poured water on my head, desperately searching for my wife.
All of the pans and appliances had crashed from the counters and cabinets in the kitchen. All of the furniture — everything — was destroyed. We put wet towels on our faces to protect us from the dust and began to pick through the rubble. It took us an hour to dig a hole to escape our kitchen. We climbed over our collapsed garage and onto the street.
Atheel: Our money was burned in the airstrike, but we took some gold and our passports, but nothing else. By the time we got outside, my husband was having trouble breathing.
IS militants were on the street and I wasn’t wearing a veil over my face. I was scared and covered up with a bit of my headscarf.
Mohammad: I saw the militants and they said, “How are you still alive? How did you survive that?”
They thought we were dead, and they didn’t care. To them, we were nothing.
Atheel: Then another airstrike hit — I’m not sure exactly where — and we crashed onto the ground to protect ourselves from flying debris. When the sound subsided, we ran as fast as we could. There was no one to help us, no ambulances. No police.
When we were out of the area, we got a taxi to the hospital. But they couldn’t help my husband because they had no oxygen. We stayed for three days and my brother-in-law brought us some oxygen.
But we had lost everything. Our home, our car, our family pictures, our marriage certificate and all of our other things. We had a nice home.
Mohammad: Now, we belong nowhere.