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Fighting In Mosul Continues Despite Iraq's Claim Of Victory Over ISIS


Iraq's government held a victory parade over the weekend. The government has reclaimed its control of the city of Mosul. But in the old section of the city, west Mosul - where ISIS made its last stand - the fighting continues to some degree. NPR's Jane Arraf was in west Mosul on Sunday. She's on the line. Jane, what did you see?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, Steve, I was out with civil defense forces, who were retrieving the bodies of civilians. Most of them were killed in the rubble of collapsed buildings. And despite the speeches and the parades, it's clear that fighting is still going on. I could hear a lot of airstrikes from helicopter gunships throughout the day. And one of the civil defense teams said a mortar landed about 100 yards from them as they were trying to lift the wreckage of a car off of some bodies.

So security forces, special forces, are still fighting ISIS fighters that are remaining in buildings in a neighborhood near the river. And one of the problems is there are also hundreds of civilians still believed trapped there as well.

INSKEEP: We've seen images of just terrible destruction, block after block that seems to be knocked over. What's it like to be in and among that destruction?

ARRAF: It's horrific. It's almost indescribable. You know, a U.N. agency estimates that almost a third of the old section of the city - more than 5,000 homes have been severely damaged. They're making that assessment looking at satellite photos, but you can see it when you're walking around on the ground, walking around through streets where almost every building has collapsed.

The main hospital is mostly leveled. There are several thousand civilians who are believed to have been killed, and civil defense forces collect dozens of bodies every single day in the west part. More than 1,000 so far, and most of them are women and children. It's really hard to imagine how they're going to put that together again.

INSKEEP: Did you find people who were still living in the rubble?

ARRAF: So when the civilians were evacuated, those of them who weren't killed or - either by the airstrikes or the mortars or killed by ISIS as they were trying to flee - they were sent to camps or went to live with relatives. And they're not allowed back, actually. This is still - although victory has been declared, and the banners are up and the flags are flying in west Mosul and the old city, it is still very much a war zone in the sense that it's not safe.

There are explosives everywhere, so, no. There are no civilians allowed back yet, not even to assess the damage - only to collect the bodies of their dead. But there are a lot of other groups that were there. The army has banned parts of the old city, most of the old city, to journalists. We were told that when I was there yesterday. The feeling is they don't really want people to see just how bad it is.

INSKEEP: One reason that ISIS, with just a few fighters, was able to capture Mosul was because the Iraqi government wasn't very popular or credible. Are they going to be any more popular now, any more able to govern?

ARRAF: Well, this is the huge dilemma. And it's - when you ask Iraqis what happens next, first they're focused on the destruction and the loss of life, but they don't see a way forward. I've been hearing a lot of complaints about the governor, a lot of complaints about the police, the Federal Police. They don't really trust anyone. And you're absolutely right. Part of the reason that ISIS was able to take over this huge city was discontent with the government and corruption, and that has not changed.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jane Arraf in northern Iraq. Thanks very much.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.