MOSUL // They have been waiting for two and half years and the children of Iraq’s east Mosul are flocking to enrol in their reopened schools, eager not to waste another day.
“It’s a great day, today we are giving our children their right to receive an education,” said Ghassan Ahmed, queueing with his seven-year-old in the yard of Farahedi primary school.
The red-and-yellow walls of the school in Muharbeen, a neighbourhood of northeastern Mosul that was retaken from ISIL, are still riddled with bullet holes.
Life is starting to return to the city’s east bank, which Iraqi forces have now completely retaken from ISIL, 100 days into a vast military operation launched in mid-October on the extremists’ last major stronghold in Iraq.
Ghassan Ahmed was a professor at the University of Mosul before ISIL seized the city in June 2014.
Like many other parents, he refused to send his child to school under ISIL’s self-proclaimed “caliphate”. His son has never been to any school.
“I kept them at home and started teaching them the official curriculum of the Iraqi government myself,” he said.
Across the street, the charred carcass of a building stands as a reminder that only days ago the entire neighbourhood was a battlefield where extremists countered advancing Iraqi forces with suicide car bombs, snipers and mortar fire.
Mohammed, a nine-year-old from the neighbourhood, said ISIL burnt down the house as part of tactics to prevent raids by US and other warplanes on their positions.
Just like 250 other children, Mohammed was at the Farahedi school for the first time since the militants took over his city.
He said he could not wait to return to school despite the fact that it still lacked running water, electricity and schoolbooks.
“I’m super happy to be going back to class. I want to become a doctor,” he said with a toothy grin.
As an explosion rumbled in the distance, the birds fell briefly silent but Mohammed did not flinch and went off to play with his friends.
In east Mosul, which a minority fled when the offensive was launched but where half a million residents stayed, 30 schools reopened this week and a total of 16,000 children were enrolled.
“Education can’t wait. It must be a priority,” said Maulid Warfa, who heads the UN children’s agency Unicef in Erbil, the nearby capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
“Schools can be a tool to slowly help them heal from the trauma ... Many children in this city have seen way too much destruction and death.”
Millions of children have lived under the tyrannical rule of ISIL since the group proclaimed its caliphate in June 2014.
Many were kept out of school for more than two years, some forcibly enlisted as child soldiers.“With two million inhabitants in Mosul, bearing in mind that 35 per cent of the population are children, we’re really talking about a huge number of children who will need to go back to school,” Mr Warfa said.
“It’s a huge task,” he said, adding that another 40 schools were scheduled to reopen in coming weeks.
* Agence France-Presse