I’m in northern Iraq and spent the day traveling to the front lines of western Mosul, where Iraqi government forces are battling the Islamic State for complete control of this city. Along the way, my colleagues and I met a villager who had just escaped.
The villager, Lahib Muhammed Ali, lived on a dairy farm. He said that because the Islamic State had placed a mortar position in one of his fields, his farm was targeted in an airstrike. With tears in his eyes, he explained how the devastating blow killed 50 of his 60 cows. This cow is one of the survivors.
Further down the road we passed a large sugar factory that had been seized by the Islamic State and is now under Iraqi control.
The mood was relaxed. But then suddenly panic, as these troops heard incoming mortar fire. Their orders were to disperse. That’s when we left.
During the trip to the front lines, my colleagues, Ben C. Solomon and Muhammad Nashat Mahmud, found two letters on the ground that had been dropped from planes over the occupied parts of the city.
This one says it is from someone called Omar who is living in eastern Mosul, which was liberated by Iraqi forces in late January, and it addresses his family and others trapped in the west. He writes that those on the eastern side are safe, and he then encourages those in western Mosul to stay put and wait for the Iraqi forces to liberate their area, too.
The letter reads:
For my family and beloved people in the western side, I love you.
We are doing all right here in the eastern side, I pray God for you and ask God to bring relief to you and get liberated as soon as possible, but you have to be patient in order to get rid of these dogs, we will smash their heads. My advice to you is to stay home and do not leave it as security forces will approach you. Be cooperative with them and guide them to ISIS members.
I’m your son, the eastern side Omar
We are all Iraq
It is unclear how the letter got there, but there was a campaign late last year that delivered letters from civilians in liberated areas as part of an effort to persuade residents, disoriented by the terror group’s information blackout, that the Iraqi people have not forgotten them. Those letters were dropped over the ISIS-occupied area by the Iraqi forces.
The Iraqi government is advising people to stay in their homes both to avoid airstrikes or mortar fire, and in the hope that keeping civilians in western Mosul would avert the kind of destruction that was seen in Ramadi when it was liberated by government forces. But civilians in eastern Mosul paid a deadly price.
Omar signs his letter with a heart. And inside it he writes to the people of western Mosul: “I love you.”