Rajab Younes Rajab walks through the ruins of Mosul’s Old City, pointing at homes where his friends used to live. “I saw people dying in front of me and I couldn’t help them,” he says. During the 2017 battle to recapture the city from ISIS, the west of the city was decimated, killing thousands. Homes and businesses were also destroyed — and Rajab’s home was no different.
Rajab says he’s still haunted by what he witnessed – he has insomnia and still mourns the friends he lost in the battle. ‘I used to see my friends more than I saw my family,’ he says tearily.
For him, returning to rebuild the family home was something he initially refused to do. But his father, Younes, couldn’t keep paying for rented accommodation elsewhere. Remarkably, some eighteen months since the city was liberated, theirs is the first home in the neighborhood to be completed – but Rajab isn’t in the mood for celebrating.
‘One of the reasons is the number of tragedies I’ve seen here,’ he says. ‘Perhaps no one’s ever witnessed what I did. ‘As soon as I leave the house, I thought I was going to die. I was targeted by a sniper more than six times. He almost killed me the last time.’
Rajab shares the anger of many here in Mosul’s Old City – a growing annoyance at the slow pace of reconstruction in the city and the apparent lack of government money to help residents rebuild. His father used the family savings to complete the project. ‘Nothing has changed here, two years after the liberation. When they published Iraq’s draft 2019 budget, Mosul got one percent,’ Rajab says.
The city may have been liberated nearly 18 months ago – but ISIS is still a looming threat here. Four teenagers were killed on their way to school two weeks ago, and a car bomb outside a popular restaurant in the city a month ago, killed three. But the authorities are keen to downplay ISIS’ presence, blaming political elements for the recent violence.
For the older generation like his father, returning home has been the priority. Of the current security situation in the city, Younes says, ‘Some incidents happen here and there but the state is in control. I’m not worried at all.’
Listening to his father, Rajab shakes his head angrily. He believes if things don’t improve soon, the city’s youth could be lured back into ISIS’ grasp. ‘It’s not safe at all. I am worried about my own life. I’m worried about my family when even now, ISIS members and leaders are still here. I was surprised by the recent explosions. It means there are sleeper cells. The government should stop them and stop them from expanding again.’
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