MOSUL, Iraq — With the launch of the second phase of the Mosul operations Dec. 29, tens of bodies of killed Islamic State (IS) fighters were strewn across the streets in the neighborhoods of al-Salam, al-Intisar, al-Wihda, Palestine and al-Quds in eastern Mosul, as was the case in neighborhoods that were previously liberated.
Residents do not want to bury the bodies for fear of them carrying explosives or being infected with diseases, or for fear of being affiliated with the dead fighters.
The streets of the liberated areas are filled with bodies, some of which are now mere skeletons from dogs feeding off them. The bloated bodies of other fighters have been covered by residents with pieces of cloth. Dead animals that lost their lives in the fighting also lie in the streets.
The smell of death fills the air in eastern Mosul, forcing passers-by to cover their noses while running errands in the markets.
When the Iraqi forces first entered Gogjali town in eastern Mosul in October, videos were broadcast on TV and emerged online of residents dragging the bodies of IS fighters through the streets in acts of reprisal. Children were seen running after the bodies, making V signs and smiling into the cameras.
With the advancement of the Iraqi forces in the eastern neighborhoods of Mosul, the bodies of IS fighters were left in the streets for the hungry dogs or were thrown onto the piles of garbage at the entrances of the residential neighborhoods.
Abu Mohammed, from al-Tahrir neighborhood, told Al-Monitor, “People feel disgusted and this is why they refrain from burying the remains of IS fighters. Near my workplace lie the head and a hand of [an IS fighter]. I will bring a shovel tomorrow and bury the body parts to get rid of the stench.”
Fouad Jaber felt he had to bury the body of his cousin who had joined IS’ ranks and died in the battle of al-Arbajia area, despite strongly opposing him. “People were complaining about the stench, so I had to rent a bulldozer to bury my cousin’s body along with other remains of unknown fighters in a deep pit in al-Arbajia,” Jaber told Al-Monitor.
During operations to liberate the provinces of Anbar and Salahuddin in 2015, IS transported the bodies of its fighters to the hospitals in Mosul for burial with foreigners and Arabs from other countries, while the bodies of the locals were handed over to their families.
The current fighting in Mosul is taking place in the areas where the hospitals are located, so the bodies cannot be taken there.
The head of Mosul's municipality, Abdel Sattar al-Hibbo, told Al-Monitor, “There are at least 17 bodies in the neighborhoods of al-Zahraa and al-Tahrir, right under the eyes of passers-by. Three of the bodies had explosive belts, so we could not remove them from the streets until the disposal unit dismantled the explosives.”
He said, “Bodies without explosives are disposed of with the garbage of the residential neighborhoods in order to facilitate the movement of residents in the liberated areas."
Hibbo noted that the coordination between the municipality of Mosul and the security forces is ongoing. As a first step, the bodies carrying explosives are marked by the Iraqi security forces for the explosive disposal unit before they are removed from the residential areas and markets.” The entire process takes a relatively long time, which increases the risk of detonation of explosives on these bodies.
While the residents refrain from burying the bodies of IS fighters for fear of accusations that they might be affiliated with them, the security apparatus has said they have no problem with residents helping to dispose of them.
Maj. Gen. Fadel Barawai, the head of the Anti-Terrorism Squad, told Al-Monitor, “We are concerned first and foremost with the safety of the children and the people of Mosul. We will not stop them from burying the remains if they want to. We do not want the bodies to remain in the streets as happened during the Ramadi battles. This is considered a humanitarian issue.”
He added, “The death toll among IS fighters reached 2,300 during the operations to liberate the northern and eastern parts of the city [of Mosul]. Many bodies still lie under the rubble."
The remains of civilians are also buried under the rubble and are difficult to reach. After having lost all its equipment, the municipality has purchased on credit 26 heavy-duty vehicles to assist with the task of recovering the bodies from the rubble. The Baghdad government has yet to allocate new funds for Mosul to use for this.
Some residents told Al-Monitor they had to bury the bodies in their gardens, as it was impossible to transport them to the assigned cemeteries because of the clashes and continuous shelling.
Yusuf is the leader of a group of children roaming the streets in eastern Mosul. He walks ahead of them, carrying part of a Kalashnikov rifle he found in one of the demolished buildings near his house in al-Bakr neighborhood, where he was playing.
“We found two bodies belonging to IS fighters inside the house. After we took the rifle, we ran outside immediately because of the bad smell,” Yusuf, 9, told Al-Monitor. When asked if they had been afraid at the sight of the bodies, he said, “Believe me, we are no longer children after all that we have seen. We are monsters now.”