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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Few wins for Mosul residents on city's Victory Bridge

Every day, hundreds of people stream over the temporary structure, the only crossing over the Tigris River in the city itself, struggling to rebuild their lives

Iraqis walk across Victory Bridge, Mosul's only crossing over the Tigris River, on July 21, 2017. Khalid Al Mousily / Reuters
Iraqis walk across Victory Bridge, Mosul's only crossing over the Tigris River, on July 21, 2017. Khalid Al Mousily / Reuters

On a pontoon bridge connecting east and west Mosul, residents of a city shattered by the battle to expel ISIL cross back and forth, trying to rebuild their lives from the rubble.

The temporary structure, known as the Victory Bridge, is the only crossing over the Tigris River in the city itself. Other bridges, including the landmark Iron Bridge, were wrecked in nine months of urban warfare which saw Iraqi government forces fight the militants street-by-street and house-by-house.

With Mosul back in government hands, hundreds of people stream over Victory Bridge each day to check homes in the devastated west side, salvage belongings or find a place to stay in the east.

All have tales of hardship and suffering under three years of ISIL rule. And, despite their relief that ISIL has been expelled, now they are worried about their present predicament and the future.

Many people from west Mosul, where whole neighbourhoods were flattened in air and artillery strikes by a US-led coalition, are struggling to pay rent in temporary accommodation. Often they have no work and are running out of funds.

One man crossing the bridge had spent his morning seeking help for a particularly alarming problem - his home has been booby-trapped by ISIL.

"Two bombs attached to each other with wire. If you put your leg on it, it will explode," said Safwan Al Habar, 48, whose home is located in Al Zinjili district.

"Do you know anyone who can remove it?" he asked. "Every day I go to the military and every day they say come back tomorrow. I am in a mess. I'm paying rent but I want to go home."

Civilians must walk across the bridge, which was erected for military purposes. Taxis taking residents to the bridge from the east side of the city must halt about half a kilometre away for soldiers to check papers.

Residents must then walk past the ruins of the Nineveh Hotel — once a luxury hangout for Iraqi generals - and down a slope to the pontoon where more soldiers lounge in the sun. On the other side of the bridge, taxis wait on a patch of open ground.

In the cavalcade coming the other way, from west Mosul, people toted televisions, cookers, bags of clothes and other items retrieved from wrecked homes. One man had reclaimed some notebooks and an English-Arabic dictionary which he carried in a plastic bag.

Another man, Mirsur Dannon Hassan, 53, said his house had been destroyed in an air strike.

"I don't have a salary. I need help to rebuild it," he said.

He was living in rented accommodation with his wife, five daughters and son in the east but their landlord had just increased the rent from US$100 (Dh367) per month to $200.

They said life was miserable under ISIL which seized Mosul in July 2014.

"It was living hell," said 31-year-old Mohamad Zuhair. "Daesh denied you everything. You did not have the right to have a phone or wear jeans. I had to have a long beard."

There were beatings and executions for transgressions. As the fighting worsened, gunmen opened fire on people trying to escape.

Mr Zuhair's children were traumatised by the experience.

"They stayed in a basement for two weeks and are still afraid," he said.

Yasser, 27, used to be a taxi-driver in the Old City, located in west Mosul. But three months ago, the militants burnt his car.

"That was the only way I could make money. I don't know who to turn to for help. Is there someone who can help me?" he said.

He now rents a house for his family for $80 but had almost run out of his $500 savings.

"The owner said if I can't pay, I have to get out."

Faras Abdulrazaq Mohamed, 33, was heading back from east Mosul to Badoush with his wife and four young daughters. His house was still standing but they had come over two days earlier because his wife Inassalem needed to see the doctor.

"There is no doctor, no pharmacy, over there," he said.

Firas Elias Abbas, 31, walked over the bridge with his wife, Asma, 25. They moved to a refugee camp after their home in the district of Nablus was damaged but returned to the city so Asma could resume classes at Mosul University.

She was studying chemistry when ISIL seized the city.

"There was no university, nothing. I lost three years," she said.

She was travelling to the university, which is in east Mosul, to find out what the situation was. The campus is a bombed-out ruin — ISIL had used it as a headquarters, making it a target for coalition air strikes.

But, Asma added: "I'm optimistic."

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