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After IS: Scars slow to heal after bloody battle for Mosul claimed families, futures

Ali Yahya Abudullah, 15, who lost most of his family to airstrikes and was badly injured in the arm by bomb shrapnel, is seen at his relative's house in the eastern part of Mosul, Iraq, on Aug. 8, 2018. He rarely goes out. (Mainichi/Kenji Konoha)
(Mainichi)

MOSUL, Iraq -- "Show them that terrible wound," relatives of Ali Yahya Abudullah urge at their home in the eastern part of this city in northern Iraq. The 15-year-old took off his t-shirt, revealing a twisted web of thick scar tissue wrapping around his upper right arm.

"When I touch it, I feel a dull pain through to the bone," Ali said, his face void of emotion.

Ali and his family lived in the western part of the old city of Mosul under the rule of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. "There were many members of Daesh in the neighborhood," he recalled, using another name for the group.

Beginning in October 2016, the Iraqi army and other forces launched a major operation to retake IS-controlled Mosul, with U.S.-led multinational forces providing air support. The assault on eastern Mosul ground on into January 2017, and in February the allied forces shifted their focus to the western part of the city. Using residents as human shields, IS fighters holed up in the old city, where Ali lived with his family.

One evening in May that year, Ali and his older brother Qusama, 25 at the time, set out to distribute food and water to houses in the area. And then a bomb landed, very close, and Ali lost consciousness.

Ali was rushed to the hospital. The doctors there considered amputating his arm at first, but they noticed his fingers moving and decided to operate to save the limb. After the anesthesia wore off, Ali awoke in a hospital bed. He was struck with sadness and fear all at once as he realized that he could not move his right arm. His brother had his heart pierced by shrapnel from the bomb, and had died instantly.

The hospital prioritized the treatment of combatants injured in the conflict rocking the city, and after 11 days Ali was forced to leave. Unable to sleep because of the pain, he made do with powerful prescription painkillers. But a mere three weeks later, yet another tragedy occurred.

The house neighboring his was shelled and collapsed, and half of Ali's family home was also crushed. Fighting raged around them, and no help arrived. After several hours, the voice of his older sister crying out for help from under the rubble went silent. Including her and Ali's father, eight people were killed. Ali and his mother Royda, 55, survived.

In July 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that Mosul had been liberated from IS control. However, somewhere between several thousand and several tens of thousands of civilians are said to have been killed in the roughly nine-month battle. An exact figure is unknown.

Now, Ali can move his arm forward and backward slightly, but is unable to lift it, and he cannot shower without help. He became unable to play his beloved soccer, and even stopped attending school. Cutting off all communication with his friends, Ali barely leaves his relative's house in the eastern part of the city.

"His personality has changed," lamented Royda.

Through selling precious metals and family contributions, Royda has scraped together about $2,500 for her son's medical treatments. She hopes that his condition might improve if he can get surgery at a hospital outside of Iraq.

"It's my only wish, but we don't have the money," she said. "My son will not be able to find a job and will not be able to live on his own."

Following doctor's orders, Ali never misses his daily physical rehabilitation exercises, moving his arm back and forth. "I actually want to go to school. I want to become an engineer like my father and build houses," he explained, emotionless even while speaking about his dreams for the future.

"I could have lived a normal life free of pain," he said, "only if Daesh hadn't come."

(Japanese original by Kohei Chiwaki, Osaka City News Department)

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