Angelina Jolie visited West Mosul, during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. Her visit to what was recently a war-torn city comes nearly a year after Mosul was liberated from three years of ISIS control.
Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, was liberated by Iraqi forces in July, after three years of ISIS control. The nine-month battle to retake the ancient city left an estimated 10,000 people dead and much of the metropolis destroyed.
Angelina Jolie called on the international community to help rebuild and stabilize the Iraqi city, where she said many people still have no running water, medicine or assistance to rebuild their homes.
“This is the worst devastation I’ve seen in all my years with UNHCR.”
“These people have lost everything, and the trauma and the loss that they’ve suffered is unparalleled. They’re here on their own with very little support — next to nothing. And they’re rebuilding themselves with their bare hands. They’re moving the rubble with their bare hands.”
“There are bodies in this rubble that stay here, and you can smell the bodies, and some of them have family members that are here, and they’re unable to move them. And there is unexploded ordinance.”
“And yet they are so happy because the last Eid al-Fitr, they were under occupation and suffering. And this Eid al-Fitr, they have nothing, but they’re free.”
Throughout Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, some 40,000 homes are in need of rehabilitation. UNHCR and its partner, Human Appeal, have begun to provide cash assistance to returning families so they can repair or rebuild their homes. The initiative aims to reach 1,500 families this year.
Without such assistance, the families returning here risk sliding deeper into poverty. Overwhelmed by the lack of shelter, infrastructure, services and jobs, thousands are being displaced again and seeking shelter in camps outside the city.
Angelina Jolie walked among the bombed-out buildings that line the narrow streets of the Old City and met displaced families to discuss efforts to rebuild the city and the needs of the returning population.
One local family showed Angelina Jolie the damage to their ancestral home, built a century ago.
Mohamed, 47, spoke of how he was born and married there, and how a mortar tore through the roof one morning last June, gravely injuring his 17-year-old daughter. When they carried her to get medical care, they were turned away and she bled to death.
For the time being, nearby friends have taken in Mohamed, his wife Hoda and their three surviving children. But the space is too crowded to stay there much longer.
They want to rebuild the house and come back here.
Even if they have painful memories in this house, where else would they go? This is their country, their people, their neighbours. One doesn’t leave his home.
Such resolve may be a crucial element in building a stable future in Mosul, Iraq and the region. But people like Mohamed will need more support from a world that has turned its eyes away.
“It is deeply upsetting, that people who have endured unparalleled brutality have so little as they try, somehow, to rebuild the lives they once had.”