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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Iraqi grandmother in Mosul faces daily battle caring for 22 orphaned children

'Without charitable donations we would have already died from hunger'

A 61-year-old Iraqi matriarch and caretaker for 22 grandchildren, embraces her family members in a courtyard in their home in the northern city of Mosul. AFP
A 61-year-old Iraqi matriarch and caretaker for 22 grandchildren, embraces her family members in a courtyard in their home in the northern city of Mosul. AFP

More than a year since the expulsion of ISIS from Mosul, Sana Ibrahim bears daily hardship to look after her 22 grandchildren, after losing five family members during the group's occupation of the Iraqi city.

Dressed in a long black robe, 61-year-old Sana never seems to stop.

She is surrounded by children – little girls with pigtails and little boys in colourful T-shirts, the youngest of whom is just two years old.

She also cares for her 71-year-old husband, Mowafaq Hamid, who has Alzheimer's disease.

Sana's greatest challenge is finding enough food for the household, which in total comprises 32 people.

During ISIS's three-year rule of Mosul, her sons Fares and Ghazwan were abducted by the terror organisation, along with her son-in-law Massud.

The men were members of the security forces and considered "apostates" by ISIS.

The group probably killed them, says Sana, who hopes one day to find their bodies.

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Throughout the ISIS occupation, hundreds of government soldiers and police officers were kidnapped and executed by members of the extremist group, their bodies dumped in mass graves around the northern city.

Iraqi forces launched an offensive in 2016 to retake Mosul, prompting a months-long battle into the heart of the city which culminated in group's removal in July 2017.

Two of Sana's other children were killed in the battle. Her 20-year-old son Youssef and her daughter Nour, 18, were shot by snipers as they tried to flee their long-time home in the Old City.

The historic district of western Mosul was devastated in the fighting.

Sana and her family had to rush to find a new place to live after their home was destroyed.

They moved to the eastern part of the city, paying $430 (Dh1,579) a month to rent a house where they squeeze into 150 square metres.

Paying the rent is a struggle for Sana, whose four surviving children are all unemployed.

"We live thanks to the donations of charitable souls in Mosul. Without them we would have already have died from hunger and illness," she said.

One such benefactor appeared bearing bags of clothes and food.

The civil servant said she gives part of her monthly salary and that of her son to help struggling families.

She is far from the only one to help, said Sana as she separated two squabbling grandchildren and cleaned the face of a third.

Grandchildren of 61-year-old Iraqi matriarch Sana Ibrahim share a meal in their family home in the northern city of Mosul. AFP
Grandchildren of 61-year-old Iraqi matriarch Sana Ibrahim share a meal in their family home in the northern city of Mosul. AFP

In the small kitchen, her youngest son's wife was busy preparing food for the increasingly impatient children.

Despite her busy daily life, Sana was clear when asked about her hopes for the future.

She wants her grandchildren "to study so that they can find good jobs and can get by", she added.

"I don't want them to beg on the streets like many other orphans."

In the absence of official statistics, non-governmental organisations have estimated there are more than 3,000 orphans in Mosul.

Sana is already "very proud" of her grandchildren who are old enough to attend school, all of whom passed their end-of-year exams.

Ahead of the new academic year, 12-year-old Iman was enthusiastic about returning to the classroom.

"At the moment I'm at secondary school, but I want to continue my studies," she said, as her grandmother looked on.

"I will go to university and become a doctor."