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Shattered lives of the liberated

Aug. 31, 2017

Iraq's second largest city of Mosul was once a bustling commercial center. Its population of 2 million was ethnically and religiously diverse. That changed 3 years ago. The Islamic State militant group took control of Mosul. Residents' lives changed dramatically.

Last October, the Iraqi Army, along with a U.S. military-led coalition, launched an offensive to recapture the city. Fighting intensified and continued for 9 months. In July of this year Mosul was fully liberated.

The fighting caused more than half of Mosul's residents to flee their homes. With infrastructure and many houses destroyed, reconstruction will take time.

Eiko Tamamoto is a Japanese journalist who managed to enter the eastern part of Mosul before the entire city was liberated.

She recorded the lives of residents who endured a 3-year reign of terror under Islamic State militants. She provides this report.

This February, I entered the government-controlled eastern part of Mosul. The Islamic State group had been in control of the area until January.

Traffic signs were changed by Islamic State militants when they took control. Now they are being changed back by the Iraqi military.

Mosul was once a vital city. But there were few people on the street.

Walking around the neighborhood, I met people who lost their family members and houses in air strikes.

One man lost his father as well has his neighbors, including a 6-month old baby. Their bodies are thought to be under rubble.

"I don't know why they attacked this place," he said. "There were no Islamic State militants here."

His mother said, "His brother was in the Iraqi Army and was killed by militants."

Many of those who lost family members still don't understand why they had to die and don't know where to direct their anger.

I wanted to see how residents are feeling after the liberation. I was shocked to learn that some people want revenge on those who supported Islamic State militants.

One 25-year-old housewife lived under the rule of the Islamic State group with her 5 children. She was afraid to leave her home, and seldom went out in 3 years.

Her younger sister and sister’s husband were accused of collaboration, and were attacked by citizens.

She did not want to show her face to my camera because she was scared of being seen as a supporter herself.

"My younger sister was stabbed, so my family moved away," she says. "I can’t contact them now."

When Mosul was liberated, everyone’s situation changed. Now, cracks are beginning to show in the relationships between residents.

Scars remain in the hearts of the people, including children.

I met two boys, aged 14 and 15, who were looking for cans and iron scraps to sell while fighting continued in the city.

They say that they get a dollar or less a day. They say they are doing it for their family and cannot find any other work.

Something they remember very well is the “public executions”.

"The militants whipped all the men without beards and moustaches," says One boy. "I saw them chop off a man’s head and throw stones at people."

The boys spoke about executions in a detached tone. I felt sad to see that they had gotten used to such unusual things.

"My father told me not to go to school because I’d be taken away," says one. "I want to go back to school and become a teacher."

Eiko Tamamoto from ASIA PRESS joined Newsroom Tokyo's Aki Shibuya and Hideki Nakayama in the studio to discuss the situation in Mosul. She has been covering Middle East for over 2 decades.

Watch the video for the interview.