Hammam al-Alil (Iraq) (AFP) – Hammam al-Alil’s sulphur springs and reopened spa have become a spot where the soldiers fighting in Mosul and the civilians fleeing it meet for a rare moment of relaxation.
“We fight on the front line and we come here when we get leave,” said Sahad Mohammed Jaber, a 32-year-old member of a federal police artillery unit.
“We relax, take a bath and go back to battle,” said the young fighter, walking around the dilapidated spa in his dripping wet white socks and a police cap tightly fitted to the brow.
Hammam al-Alil lies a half-hour drive south of the front line in west Mosul, where thousands of Iraqi forces are attempting to root out diehard Islamic State group jihadists defending their last major bastion in Iraq.
The town on the west bank of the Tigris river was retaken in the early stages of an offensive, Iraq’s largest military operation in years, that began almost six months ago.
Hammam al-Alil, which means “The bath of the sick” in Arabic, is well known across Iraq and, even though the spa’s white tiles are peeling off the walls, it provides a much needed space for leisure.
One soldier does a backflip into one of the round pools of warm sulphur water while others have their backs rubbed down with soap.
The spa is also open to the tens of thousands of civilian men who continue to flee Mosul every week as Iraqi forces advance through the city’s western half.
Some of them live in tents in a large and overcrowded displacement camp just a few minutes south of Hammam al-Alil where everything from drinking water to food and latrines are in short supply.
More than 200,000 people have already fled west Mosul since a renewed offensive there was launched in mid-February and after crossing paths on the front line, soldiers and civilians meet again at the spa.
“I fled from the Yarmuk neighbourhood but Daesh caught me,” said Mohammed Aziz, who walked from the camp for the displaced with his son, brother and cousin.
– ‘These people were dirty’ –