The families cowered in basements, huddling in the dark as war raged overhead between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants fighting for control of the streets of Mosul.
Above ground, soldiers from Iraq’s Rapid Response division move from house to house through the same openings Islamic State militants smashed through the walls in preparation to defend their last remaining stronghold in the city’s west.
The passageway led them through living rooms and gardens, into a kitchen with a pot of lentil soup on the counter — the scenes of domesticity highlighting the chaos of war that is intensifying as Iraqi forces advance.
“It’s strange and terrifying,” said a young woman who was barely visible in the gloom of a basement under her house in the Josaq district, where she went into hiding after giving birth to a baby girl 72 days ago. “I rarely go upstairs.”
Iraqi forces advanced quickly in the early stages of the offensive to recapture Mosul’s western half, retaking the airport and piercing Islamic State defenses around the city within days.
Now they are encountering tougher resistance as they push into residential districts where as many as 750,000 civilians are essentially trapped.
If they defeat Islamic State in Mosul that would crush the Iraq wing of the caliphate its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared in 2014 over parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria. (Isabel Coles/Reuters)