MOSUL, IRAQ // The luckiest of west Mosul’s residents had tomato concentrate, but potatoes were an almost unheard-of luxury in the final desperate months before they were freed from ISIL rule.
As government forces closed in on the extremists in their last urban stronghold in Iraq, residents were forced to hide in their homes and get by on whatever they had managed to stockpile.
“The markets were empty: we only had a little rice, flour and dates,” said Abu Ahad, a 45-year-old from Al Mansur, one of the districts government forces retook from ISIL last week.
“We have been under siege for more than six months on this side” of Mosul, said Khaled Meshaal, another resident of Al Mansur.
“We bought food four times but we finished it all, there was nothing left.”
He was among hundreds of residents queuing behind government lorries for food packages that would allow them to have their first proper meal in weeks.
Men with shaggy beards waited to receive cartons containing cooking oil, rice, tea, sugar and baby formula. The cardboard packages were emblazoned with the label “Ministry of Migration and the Displaced”.
Women queued in a second line. Some had removed the veils ISIL had forced them to wear. Their black robes were covered with dust.
Each resident presented an ID card before being given a parcel. The crowd surged against the lorry as people pushed and shoved. Soldiers shot in the air to restore order.
Fahd Fadel, 50, strapped his box of aid on to a bike. “I feel like I’ve been born again,” said the father of five.
“For three months there was nothing to buy in the markets, but these last days it was hell. We stored basic products – water, cracked wheat and tomato concentrate – and we ate one meal a day,” he said before picking his way through piles of rubble in the street.
The fighting between government forces and ISIL has reduced houses to shredded concrete and twisted metal. On the ground nearby lay the body of an extremist, his throat cut and his heart ripped out.
“The families of ISIL fighters had plenty of reserves. They had enough to eat and drink, but if they saw a starving child in the street they would not give it anything,” said Yasser Nabil.
The former civil servant in his 30s said he had his parents and four young children to feed.
“They are asking for food, but we have nothing to give them,” he said. “We ate one meal a day and we didn’t have baby formula.”
Khaled, 47, said he had no food left at home for his five children and this was the first aid to reach his area.
“Everything was very expensive and nobody had any money left,” he said. “In recent weeks we ate one meal a day, whatever we had in the house -- lentils or cracked wheat.”
A few streets away, food was distributed by the Hashed Al Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation, paramilitaries.
Residents crowded around their small white pickup trucks to receive beans, bottles of water, cakes and boxes of cigarettes.
Abdel Razzaq Abdel Saheb, an official from the southern city of Basra who had come to join the war effort, called on Iraqi citizens to come to the aid of their compatriots.
“People need water, food, petrol and gas,” he said.
* Agence France-Presse