Mosul celebrates first Eid without Islamic State in years

Iraqi children play as they celebrate Eid al-Fitr, in Mosul, Iraq June 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

MOSUL: People in the Iraqi city of Mosul celebrated their first Muslim Eid holiday without Islamic State in years on Sunday after the militants were ejected from much of the city, and hoped the battle to recapture the remaining area would soon be over.
Children gathered in squares on the eastern side of the city. Some played on old swings and others with toy guns and rifles, which were among the toys allowed by Islamic State militants after they took over the city in June 2014.
The militants implemented an extreme version of Islam which associated toys with a face, like dolls, with idolatry. They encouraged youngsters to train on weapons and changed text books to reflect their military ideology. Children were asked to add up bombs or bullets in maths exercises.
Eid prayers were allowed under Islamic State but festivities were not.
But for many, Sunday’s Eid celebrations were overshadowed by the destruction of their historic leaning minaret, blown up by the militants on Wednesday, and fears for thousands of civilians trapped in the Old City in western Mosul still under Islamic State control.
“It won’t be real Eid before we return home,” said a man in his 60s, displaced from the western side of the city, across the Tigris river, where fighting continues.
Some expressed sadness over the destruction of the 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri mosque and its leaning 150-foot (45-meter) minaret.
“Eid is not the same,” said a man who declined to give his name as fear is still present even though Iraqi forces dislodged the insurgents from the eastern part of the city months ago.
Iraqi forces took the eastern side from Islamic State in January, after 100 days of fighting, and started attacking the western side in February. The militants are now besieged in Mosul’s Old City.
Islamic State retaliated with a series of suicide attacks in Hay al-Tanak, a poor neighborhood west of the Old City.
“The security forces blocked a violent attack carried out by (people wearing) explosive belts, in Hay al-Tanak,” said a military statement, showing pictures of black smoke it said came from fires set to houses and cars by the militants.
The Iraqi military didn’t confirm Islamic State statements that the insurgents took control of Hay al-Tanak and began attacking the nearby Hay al-Yarmuk neighborhood. Witnesses said they saw residents fleeing the area.
“As our heroic forces are closer to declaring final victory over the Daesh (Islamic State) gangs, I offer my most sincere congratulations for Eid al-Fitr,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement.
A U.S.-led international coalition is providing air and ground support in the eight-month-old offensive to drive the militants from their de facto capital in Iraq.
About 350 Islamic State fighters, most of them non-Iraqis, are defending their remaining stronghold in Mosul’s densely populated Old City, an Iraqi general said on Sunday. He expected the battle for the city to end in days. – Reuters

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