Rebuilding and Reuniting in Mosul
9 May 2018
The battle to retake Mosul from ISIS took 10 months, ending in July 2017, but unfortunately, it takes longer to rebuild a city than to destroy it. We drove into the city on a dismal day in February 2018. Rubble is still everywhere: roads, bridges, buildings remain in shambles. The people are coming back nonetheless and now, in addition to the aftermath of destruction, the residents must also deal with traffic.
Yet, it is wonderful to see all this activity where less than a year ago there was desperate fighting in the streets, where ISIS had decided that if they were going to lose, everyone should die – and began indiscriminately killing civilians. While many of the residents would probably like to forget that recent history, we came to back on this day to remember. We first drove to the edge of town, to a little dirt road that connected the city proper to some planned construction sites, and then more open fields.
It was here, in a little dip in the road, where a fleeing family had been spotted by an ISIS sniper: the father was shot in the leg and then had to watch in horror as his daughter was shot through the eye. Our team, working alongside the Iraqi Army, had gone to their rescue. As Dave lifted the injured father into the Humvee, the man was hit again. His daughter, still alive despite her head wound, was pushed in after and our medics, Slowly, from Burma, and Sky, an American, began treating them both immediately. Then the Humvee was hit and disabled.
Under heavy fire and unable to move, our team knew it was a matter of time before ISIS closed in and finished them with an RPG or other heavier weapon. Dave was on the radio calling for a tank to push them out of the fire but the Iraqi forces were themselves repulsing an ISIS counter-attack. At that point, Mohammed, the Iraqi soldier (and now a new follower of Jesus) who was driving the vehicle, jumped out and sprinted through fire up the hill to get help.
He was soon back in another Humvee, which he pulled alongside the disabled one, using it to mask the ISIS fire coming from the buildings to the south. Shaheen, our translator and teammate, got out to begin helping move the patients to the new vehicle. But more ISIS troops had circled around to the east and Shaheen was hit immediately and went down. Mohammed saw his friend go down and jumped from the safety of the new vehicle, ran under fire to where Shaheen lay wounded, picked him up and carried him back to the Humvee.
This time Mohammed was hit – six times – but did not go down. With one hand he tried to stop the bleeding from a bullet wound in his own neck and with the other he drove the Humvee back to safety. He and Shaheen were both evacuated, first to a casualty collection point on the edge of Mosul, and then to Baghdad.
Mohammed eventually recovered but ten days later Shaheen died from his wounds.
Dave and the rest of the team in the Humvee remained under heavy fire until an Iraqi tank came and fired point blank into the ISIS positions while another Humvee with teammate Justin came to pull Dave’s disabled vehicle out of the line of fire.
Now, on this trip we came to remember Shaheen’s life and death, and to celebrate the eventual victory over ISIS that allowed us to do so in peace. After stopping at the site where he was shot, we went to a nearby park, where our friends at Reload Love had helped us to build a playground. The playground was full of kids, newly returned to their homes and enjoying the newest construction in their neighborhood. The next day we did a Good Life Club (GLC) program there and dedicated the playground to Shaheen.
At the same time, our Iraq team had been working on finding some of the people rescued last May and June when the fighting was at its most desperate. As the GLC program ended, we got word that one girl had been found.
Rahab had been trapped when the building she was hiding in with her family was destroyed during the fighting; two of her brothers had been killed while the rest of her family had escaped and told the Iraqi Army about their trapped daughter. When they confirmed she was still alive, the Iraqi Army, Dave and Zau Seng of our FBR team, and Iraqi firemen with special equipment from Baghdad drove into ISIS territory to get the girl out. Under ISIS fire they held ISIS back and dug her out of the rubble. Rahab had been trapped for three days with a crushed knee when she was rescued. Back at the casualty collection point, as FBR medics Silverhorn and Slowly worked on her, Dave prayed with her and promised to help her in the future. Now we were back in Mosul and so was she.
We pulled up behind the taxi Rahab and her family had arrived in. She got out, limping and on crutches but smiling. After her rescue, the Red Cross helped her to have an initial operation, which partially repaired her knee while determining the extent of the damage. Part of her kneecap is gone and she will need further operations and physical therapy to be able to walk well again. But she has a future now and when Dave asked her what she wanted to do in it she beamed as she said, “I want to study to be a doctor.” We hugged her and gave her family what assistance we could for the next step – another operation.
As we stood in joy on the side of the road, visiting with this family, a thin, trim man walked up and joined us. Beside him was a young girl with a lively and beautiful face, with one eye covered by a patch. We soon realized they were the father and daughter who had been rescued the day Shaheen was shot. Incredibly, they both had survived. And here they were, standing on the muddy side of the road on the edge of a still-destroyed Mosul, just minutes from where they had come so close to dying. ISIS was gone and we rejoiced at life snatched from the brink of death. It felt almost like a resurrection.
We learned that the girl’s name is Aisha. Her eye is gone but she is otherwise healthy. Her father is also recovered. Dave embraced them both and they smiled and thanked us again and again. The father invited us to their house to meet the rest of the family. Dave and Sky, one of the FBR medics who had been in the Humvee and had helped keep Aisha and her father alive, smiled and hugged them, thanking God.
We said goodbye to Rahab and her family before stopping to visit the site she had been rescued from; two of their sons are still buried there and they didn’t want to go back. As we walked around the rubble of the collapsed house we could see where ISIS had been and how much the Iraqi Army and team had risked to get Rahab out. It seemed like a miracle.
We prayed over the site and then went on to Aisha’s house. It was a joyful visit, steeped as it was in the joy of resurrection. The father told us, “You saved our lives, thank you so much and we thank God. You did not leave us. We honor the man on your team [Shaheen] who gave his life that we may live.”