Iraq Update: New Life in a Broken Land
15 November 2017
We are back in Kurdistan and Iraq now, to visit our good friends in Kurdistan, to support and help as we can our good friends in the Iraqi Army who are still fighting ISIS, and to follow up on those men, women and children whose lives we helped rescue from the destruction that ISIS wreaked here. Thanks for your prayers and support to get us here.
In June 2017, we reported on the rescues of seven Iraqi civilians from ISIS killing fields in Mosul. This had happened near the Mustafsha al Musil Al Ammor West Mosul hospital, by the northernmost bridge over the Tigris, which had been taken over by ISIS and was being used to control one of the few avenues of escape for civilians. As military leaders tried to figure out how to oust the barricaded fighters without killing civilians, families trying to flee past this hospital were being gunned down. On June 2nd and 3rd, FBR teams were able to help rescue seven people from this killing field.
On June 2nd, with the support of US military firing smoke and an Iraqi tank our team ran behind, a little girl who had been hiding under her dead mom’s scarf and a wounded man were rescued. On June 3rd, we learned that there were five more survivors in an ISIS-controlled building. This time we had no support; our team and a four-man Iraqi team were led by a Private Zuhair and guided by an Iraqi civilian named Omar to infiltrate through the buildings and, with God’s help, we were able to get the last five survivors out. Three of them had been shot four days before, one was a small girl and one was boy who had been wounded earlier and could not walk. All had been hiding among the dead. In order to rescue one of the wounded women who was laying out in the open in sight of ISIS, we had to get a wire out to her and drag her in; ISIS did not see and we then carried her and the four others out to safety. On this trip back to Mosul we are trying to meet and help these survivors, as well as Private Zuhair and Omar who helped us on the rescues.
Returning to Mosul and the site of the rescues was unsettling and I felt a weight in the pit of my stomach. I felt a wave of fear too – how close we had come each day to being killed, how overwhelming the odds were on the side of ISIS. This fear had an evil current and I prayed against it and thanked God we had made it and He had helped us to help others. Yet there remained a sadness and a horror and the memory of what happened came back strong, as did the stench of death. I felt I could hear the bullets crack by me again, see the sprawled dead children and their shot parents, feel the heat and roar of the tank as it fired at ISIS and the smoke the Americans were dropping. Feel the bullets whiz by and mortars crash, look into the dead face of a little girl as we stepped over her body. It was a near thing and seeing it all again made me realize why we should not have made it. All around were ISIS-controlled buildings and in one area they were just 20 yards away. It was a gift from God, a near thing, but we had made it. Looking now at the bits of bone and scattered clothes, a little girl’s shoes and bullet-pocked walls I still felt sad for all those who did not make it, all those who died slow agonizing deaths as their family members died around them. Now as I walked the ground with my family and some of our team I prayed for all who survived and those who did not. We had come to see the place this happened but most of all to find the living. And we have begun to find them.
So far we’ve met Omar, the civilian who helped us on the second rescue; Kofran a 20-year-old woman who lay wounded for four days, then found a working phone among the dead and called for help – her call was eventually relayed to us; and Private Zuhair, who helped us organize the first rescue on June 2nd and then went with us and led the way on the 3rd.
To get to Omar’s, we drove through the ruins of a Mosul neighborhood just starting the rebuilding process. Every few blocks were Iraqi police checkpoints and the feeling was still tense. Most of the people here had been under ISIS for three years and many had supported them. We went into Omar’s small, bullet and mortar-scarred house and had a joyful reunion. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you too,” I said.
“I love you four,” Omar replied with a big laugh. His smiling wife and four boys greeted us and we had a good evening together. We gave him and his family funds to help them and then prayed and went to visit another family.
This family was not part of the rescues but was a family we had been part of liberating and they had a grandmother who had lost her legs and a little girl who had lost her foot in an airstrike. We spent the night with them, listened to their stories, gave as much help as we could and exchanged contact information so we could be in touch with them in the future.
The next morning our destination took us across Mosul – very slow going with more and more vehicles returning, multiple checkpoints and rubble everywhere. A tunnel had been discovered near the place we spent the night and three ISIS had escaped from it and were at large. Every checkpoint was on the lookout, not only for these three ISIS, but the many others known to still be hiding in Mosul.
Khofran’s house was where we were headed, about 20km south of Mosul. She was beaming and it made our day to be with her. She told us her story and at the end said, “Even my aunt abandoned me and ran for her life, but you, a foreigner, came and risked your life for me. You have great mercy.”
I said, “This is love and it is from God. Jesus helped us do this and helped us to help you.” I told her how we prayed that God would shut the eyes and ears of ISIS and stop Satan and his demons and it was God’s power that saved her. She smiled at all of us and thanked us. We gave her help for her surgery, prayed with her and her family and said good-bye.
Our next stop was the west edge of Mosul, to meet Private Zuhair. We met on the side of the road and embraced each other a long time. He is a hero to me; I told him I had retold the story of his bravery all across America. I told him how his courage and his words – “Even if I am the only to go and help and even if I fail and die I will go. I cannot leave those wounded people to die without trying” – had helped me on both rescues. We awarded him the FBR Star of Valor and FBR Medal of Honor, which has only been won by two other living people – one of whom is Mohammad, the Iraqi soldier shot eight times while rescuing our translator Shaheen, and who now works with FBR.
On this mission, we will keep trying the find the others we helped. We are in contact with Demouah, the little girl we rescued on June 2nd by running behind a Iraqi tank to go help her. We hope to see her soon and will report. Below are photos and details of each person we’ve seen so far:
20-year-old Iraqi woman, rescued on 2 June 2017. She had been shot twice in the leg while fleeing with her family. For four days she laid in a bombed-out Pepsi factory, next to one of ISIS’s final strongholds in western Mosul. Up to 70 people were killed at this same site. She was able to make contact by mobile phone with family who had escaped, and they alerted Iraqi forces to her location. On 2 June 2017 she was found and rescued by FBR team members and Iraqi soldiers.
She and her family are back in their home now, south of Mosul. She has had two operations and now walks with a single crutch. She told us her story in a calm, clear voice, with steady eyes and expressive hands. It is burned in her memory but she is not overcome. We provided them with funds to help cover medical costs.
Local man who escaped with his family, also in late May/early June. On 2 June, he approached the FBR team and Iraqi soldiers asking for help to rescue his mother, and said there were others still alive in the ISIS kill zone. He had seen Khofran and others. He urged us to try to save these people and offered to guide the team through the rubble to where the survivors were.
His family, his wife and four sons, survived and they have been visited twice by the FBR team in their home in Mosul. Much of Mosul was destroyed and while it is recovering, it takes time. We provided Omar some financial help and a generator to supplement the uncertain power situation in the city. He is looking for work now.
Zuhair is a soldier in the Iraqi Emergency Response Division (ERD). On 1 June, as fleeing civilians were being funneled into a street in front of the ISIS stronghold, and then gunned down, he became determined to do something to help. He had phone contact with Khofran and knew there were other survivors. He pushed his superior officers and finally the FBR team, to attempt to rescue these trapped and wounded civilians. On 2 June, he led the rescue mission in which Khofran and several others were rescued.
We met him again on this trip and awarded him the FBR Star of Valor and Medal of Honor. He said, “I am a soldier. If there are any women or children in danger, my duty is to go help them.” He is still in his unit and is stationed outside of Mosul.