MOSUL, Iraq – Two houses are all that remain standing on the street with no name in western Mosul, just blocks from the front lines of the battle to retake Iraq’s second-largest city from the Islamic State group.
The once-bustling neighborhood has been reduced to rubble, its sidewalks piled high with a jumble of concrete, bricks and metal.
Standing amid the debris of what was once his home on the newly liberated street, Maan Nawaf blamed IS for the destruction around him. It was IS fighters, he said, who drew the devastating firepower of the Iraqi and coalition warplanes to the street by positioning snipers on top of the buildings after ordering residents to leave, including his elderly mother.
“We said we have a disabled woman, she can’t walk. They said if you don’t go, we will kill you,” he said. The family knew the militants would make good on the threat: IS fighters killed two of his brothers, one of whom was a policeman, as well as his nephew, Nawaf said.
For the few residents who remain in Mosul’s Wadi Hajar neighborhood, the war is far from over. Just blocks away, police units fired mortars at IS positions and helicopters circled overhead, firing into the streets below. IS returned fire only sporadically, the treacherous calm luring the residents into the street between the crashes of mortars.
Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes launched their assault on western Mosul in mid-February after taking the eastern sector of the city in more than three months of heavy fighting. While nearly two months of house-to-house battles have flushed the militants out of parts of…