Iraqis in liberated Mosul district wave white flags

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Mosul—“We are raising white flags to show the army that we’re peaceful,” said shopkeeper Abu Mohammad, a man in his 70s, as he stood outside his store.
Iraqi forces launched a major offensive on October 17 to retake Mosul, which is the country’s second city and where jihadist supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a caliphate in 2014.
On Saturday, they drove IS jihadists out of Al-Khadraa after days of fierce fighting.
Abu Mohammad said residents greeted the army with flowers to show their appreciation, and immediately he reopened his shop.
“We are now done” with the jihadists, he said.
But intermittent gunfire and explosions could still be heard in the distance and Iraqi forces say they are still hunting down diehard jihadists who may be hiding in the area.
“There are residents who are cooperating with us,” said Lieutenant Nasser al-Ruqabi from the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS).
He said CTS started working with them Sunday to identify would-be jihadist holdouts and to determine which roads could have been mined by the IS fighters.
But Abu Mohammad is adamant that the situation in Al-Khadraa is under control and that he will not have to flee his home as tens of thousands of Iraqis in the region have in recent weeks.
“We will not leave,” he insisted. A CTS commander, Thaer al-Kenani, said his unit had encouraged residents to hunker down in their homes and raise the white flags for their protection.
“But despite that, the jihadists went inside their homes and inside mosques and used them as hideouts from where they opened fire at us,” said Kanani.
– ‘We buried our dead’ –
With the presence of Iraqi forces in Al-Khadraa, residents have been trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Many can be seen cleaning their homes or just walking down the streets, preciously carrying their white flags like a protection shield as if to reassure themselves that everything is back to normal.
Children cooped up for days indoors are also out on the streets and run after a military convoy flashing ‘V for victory’ signs.
In a house bustling with people, a group of women are crowded in a room talking about their new found freedom after years of living under the brutal rule of the jihadists.
Some like Rima are even planning for the future.
“Yesterday, at 1:00 pm we got rid of them and we were liberated,” said Rima who is in her 20s.
“Now I would like to go back to university to continue my studies in Arabic literature,” she said.
Her mother, Umm Ahmad Hamdani, interrupts her.
“This is not our house. We live in the building next door, but Daesh (IS) kicked us out, now we are seven families living here,” she said. “We buried our dead in public gardens. Before yesterday we buried three and yesterday two,” she added.
Across the street from the house, black plumes of smoke billow into the sky and beyond that a group of residents are walking by, clasping white flags.—AFP