In 2017, a battle raged in Mosul, as Iraqi armed forces and their international supporters fought to dislodge Islamic State fighters from the city. Almost 2 million people—half of Mosul’s population–fled from the fighting. During the battle, over 9000 civilians were killed and more than 130,000 homes were destroyed or damaged. In the latest episode, we hear from the staff at one of the hospitals decimated by the fighting. Then we turn to our team in Mosul and ask: How do largely populated cities like Mosul, after so much destruction and human tragedy, carry on after the conflict ends?

An elderly civilian enters his house, destroyed during the second phase of the military offensive to retake the city from armed groups. (Photo Credit: Andre Liohn/ICRC)

Ghanem was 8-years-old in 2017 when he lost his leg due to a rocket that hit his home in West Mosul. He was fitted with a prosthetic leg at the ICRC’s physical rehabilitation center in Mosul. (Photo Credit: Mike Mustafa Khalaf/ICRC)

This man works in his own carpentry workshop. An ICRC grant helped him re-open his business, which was destroyed in the fighting. (Photo Credit: James Matthews/ICRC)

Additional Materials:

See 3D images of the Ibn Sina Teaching Hospital after the Battle of Mosul.

Read more about the ICRC’s work on War in Cities

This episode is now available for the hearing impaired.

[BONESSI] In Mosul, Iraq a battle raged from October 2016 to July 2017 as Iraqi armed forces and their international supporters fought to dislodge Islamic State fighters from the city.

[Sound of TV turning on and tuning to a channel] 

News Reporter: “A rare glimpse of western Mosul. Urban warfare on a momentous scale. Caught below hundreds of thousands of civilians.” 

[Turn off TV]

[BONESSI] Over half of the population in Mosul fled from the fighting. During the battle, over 9000 civilians were killed and more than 130,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.Today we hear from the staff at one of the hospitals decimated by the fighting. Then we turn to our team in Mosul and ask: How do largely populated cities like Mosul, after so much destruction and human tragedy, carry on after the conflict ends? I’m Dominique Maria Bonessi and this is Intercross, a podcast that offers a window into the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross and shares the stories of those affected by conflict and other situations of violence


[Background music]

[BONESSI] Before the battle of Mosul, the Ibn Sina Teaching Hospital was a major landmark in the heart of the city.

[Safwan Kamil Mohammad speaks in Arabic with an English voiceover] “The Ibn Sina hospital meant something great to all the people in the city, they were coming from the city downtown and even from its suburbs.”

[BONESSI] Safwan Kamil Mohammad is a senior craftsman with the hospital’s engineering and maintenance services. He worked at the hospital’s original location for more than 19 years.  He knew it when it had six floors and all medical specialties under one roof with beds enough for the thousands of patients that would visit daily.

[SAFWAN] “It was our daily routine to come to work early in the morning to care for our patients until the end of the day. We were receiving thousands of them, for surgical operations, medical advice, and all kind of medical services. I remember when I saw patients getting better, I felt proud of myself because we offered them a service, it was our duty. My father, mother and brother died in this hospital. But when I see a patient healed, I forget about my sadness and feel joy. We don’t consider [the hospital] our workplace only but our home, we treat old patients as we would our parents.”

[BONESSI] Safwan remembers when the battle of Mosul started.

[SAFWAN] “When the fighting started, we were at the hospital because there were patients there and, of course, we wouldn’t leave them behind, they were our responsibility. So, we stayed with them until they were all evacuated safely to their homes, and then we left the hospital.”

[Sound of displaced people fleeing Mosul]

[BONESSI] More than a million people were displaced by the fighting. Omar Abdulwahaab, a CT scan and MRI technician at the hospital, says that after the battle and longer term peoples’ health deteriorated.

[Omar speak in Arabic with an English voiceover] “We started receiving brain conditions, body paralysis, post-war trauma, psychological trauma, nervous shocks.”

[BONESSI] As war raged on for the next nine months, the ICRC deployed surgical teams to 20 healthcare facilities around the city to treat the thousands of wounded civilians—a third of whom were children. They also trained emergency responders, and managed physical rehabilitation centers for those who lost their limbs due to mines and other remnants of war.  As the battle wore on, it wasn’t long before the Ibn Sina Teaching hospital—the city landmark for so many–became inoperable.  Dr. Faiz Ibrahim al-Hamdani, director of the hospital, says when it was safe to do so the staff resumed their work in the eastern part of the city at what was left another hospital with a total of just 11 beds.

[Faiz speaks in Arabic with an English voiceover] “I understood that this area of the hospital was not appropriate on the long run, and we were also hoping to go back to Ibn Sina Hospital.”

[BONESSI] But in July 2017, one week after the end of the battle, Dr. Faiz learned that Ibn Sina was completely razed.

[Faiz] “When we were entering our old hospital site, it was totally burned down, and what was not burned down had been shelled.The scene was scary. We were the first group of people who entered the hospital, and even the guards told us to watch our steps for mines. We decided to enter because we considered it our second home. We were very careful and putting our lives in grave danger. If I had to do it again, I would think twice. It took me nearly 15 minutes to walk from the interior to exterior gates, when it used to take only one minute before. It also took me 15 minutes to walk up from one floor to the next, staring at the ground for fear of mines, wire or traps.”

[BONESSI] Over the course of a year, the staff at the hospital worked to transport the medical supplies from their destroyed home to another partially destroyed hospital.

[FAIZ] “This hospital too had been significantly damaged by four missiles and booby trap explosions. So we had to think about how to best use this building structure with no electricity or running water. The hospital staff contributed, financially or physically, to the rehabilitation of the hospital. Donors and city residents also helped us a lot in the process.”

[BONESSI] Meanwhile, Dr. Faiz couldn’t forget about what the teaching hospital meant to the people of the city seeing it now in ruins.

[FAIZ] “That day made me very sad, and I could not sleep for two days straight after what I saw. But this is what drove me to rebuild this hospital, I viewed it as my second home. All my colleagues were motivated to help me rebuild this hospital. And our feeling was indescribable. I posted the photos that I took on Facebook, and I think I received more than 2000 comments in 24 hours, the whole world was watching the city and the hospital. It was a great motivation to rebuild this hospital and I worked day and night hours to rebuild it.”

[BONESSI]  Fast forward seven years later, the plans to rebuild where Dr. Faiz had so many memories are in full swing and is backed by a 230 million-dollar budget. The new hospital will have eight floors with 600 beds, and be fully equipped. With any luck, the reconstruction process will take about three years. Nevertheless, it’s not without its challenges. Even with the hope of new hospitals reopening, the number of hospital beds citywide falls far short compared to the number of patients.

[FAIZ] “Nowadays, we receive nearly 3000 patients on daily basis. This increases the pressure on our services and other hospitals have the same issue.”


[BONESSI] We’re going to take a quick break, but when we come back we’ll be speaking with Farrukh Islamov, head of the ICRC’s team in Mosul. Farrukh will explain how the ICRC is working within communities to build resilience and address the challenges that remain seven years on.

[Humanity in War Podcast Trailer plays]

[BONESSI] I’m back now with Farrukh Islamov, head of ICRC’s sub-delegation in Mosul. Farrukh has been working with the ICRC for almost a decade in places like Georgia, Karabakh, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

It’s important to point out here, just because a battle is over, doesn’t mean the obligations of international humanitarian law end. It may be peace time, but there will often be pockets of hostilities, rogue forces, long-term damage, unexploded weapons, and lives that cannot go back to so-called normal. This is especially true in urban centers that have become increasingly congested, complex and interdependent. In places like the Gaza Strip, Khartoum and Kherson, the indirect consequences of armed conflict can deepen the suffering for years to come. Here’s Farrukh about how he sees this still playing out in Mosul.

[FARRUKH] “Well, you see, usually armed conflicts last shorter than the impact they have on the people in socioeconomic environment, same is observed. In the case of conflict in Mosul, seven years is really very short period for recovery. When we look at the extent and impact of the armed conflict in Mosul. Today, we still have hundreds of thousand people still displaced, tens of thousands still missing. Return and reintegration of populations faces multiple challenges. Many families remain stigmatized and vulnerable to a number of protection related concerns. Security and safety fears, destroyed homes, civil infrastructure services and lost livelihoods during the conflict are still pending challenges. We are also talking here about the physical and mental health of the population impacted by the conflict. For families of missing persons, the pain of the loss of loved ones or not knowing about their fate, or in cases of death, not always being able to bury their bodies in a dignified and culturally and religiously acceptable way has a long-term impact. Similarly, physical disabilities caused to people by the conflict will have a long-term psychological trauma which requires not only treatment of their physical health, but mental health and their integration into socio economic life. Unfortunately, also explosive remnants of war is still having an impact on the population these days. I must say here that the Iraqi authorities, in cooperation with the wider international community, are still doing a lot to bring the life in the communities to normal. But as I say, seven years is too short to bring to life of this community to normal.”

[BONESSI] The Battle of Mosul was seven years ago, can you talk to us about Iraq today, and why is the ICRC still involved there? 

[FARRUKH] “We should differentiate first of all between current conflicts and the ones which ended recently, namely, the immediate needs of the affected population in this context are different in their urgency. In ongoing conflict, for example, emergency needs for shelter, food and immediate protection and medical services are vital and urgent compared to other needs which require longer time and commitment. Here I am talking about missing file, detention file, physical rehabilitation, psychosocial support, and sustainable livelihoods and services to the most vulnerable and affected population. So we are also thinking talking about protection needs of most vulnerable IDPs, returnees and detainees from, for example, northeast Syria, a large number of whom are from Ninewa governorate where Mosul is. These issues are still relevant to ICRC’s mandate and role, and they require a bit of longer-term commitment. And that’s why we are still here.”

[BONESSI] So when we talk about a longer term commitment, what is ICRC’s added value in staying after the fighting is over?

[FARRUKH] “Well, you know, recovery after conflict depends not only on physical reconstruction, which still requires also time and a lot of resources, but the importance of addressing the nonphysical scars of conflict. It is important not to neglect humanitarian dimension, which is also still very much present, as I mentioned earlier. The problem is that we cannot concentrate on development without resolving pending humanitarian issues. Development projects require investments which are profitable and sustainable, and for which communities can pay to benefit from them. I think Mosul is in transitional period from humanitarian issues towards recovery and development. And in my opinion, some development projects should be driven by the humanitarian objective and not commercial or purely developmental, which would open a door for the partnerships actually to which ICRC could contribute by expertise, understanding of humanitarian context and it’s good access and acceptance by the authorities and communities. Due to its unique mandate and trustful cooperation with the authorities, ICRC has access to the people and areas to which others do not have. That’s why while development organizations can concentrate on their objectives, ICRC would continue its added value for rehabilitating souls and minds of people who were affected by conflict through its humanitarian projects. This is the process which requires balance between addressing humanitarian issues and introducing developmental goals and objectives here. But this should go hand in hand, not excluding each other.”

[BONESSI] How is the ICRC currently supporting the people of Mosul and returnees in the recovery, resilience, building and adaptation to life after conflict?

[FARRUKH] “For example, when we talk about water issues access to water is crucial, for life and sustainable living environment. So, we cooperate closely with local authorities and other partners in ensuring access to water for the communities and areas which were impacted by conflict. We have economic security program, which ICRC defines, as the ability of individuals, households, or communities to cover their essential needs sustainably and with dignity. One of the important files also we do, and it is related to people’s, recovery after such a conflict is, the missing file. Many families missing their loved ones. We talk here about the forensic work through which we support the local institutions like medical legal unit in Mosul in order to build their capacity and technical, capacities to do the forensic job with the hope that they, bring result in identification of bodies and handing them over to the families of missing in the future.”

[BONESSI] I can see that the people of Mosul and the city itself and the authorities play their own part in its road to recovery and growth. Do you have any stories of resilience or hope that you might want to contribute to? You know, where the city stands today? 

[FARRUKH]  “We have plenty of examples of people who built resilience and who recovered from the losses, they had, especially when we talk about loss of livelihoods. People got back their businesses and not only supported their family, but they even employed other people who also were in need. One of them was recently related to the micro economic initiative to the family’s business totally destroyed with the conflict. They were carpenters. And to survive, they sold everything. But then through our project they not only resumed their work, but they also expanded and hired vulnerable like them others to do this job and get some income. You have a tear or pain in your heart because you see how people are struggling. But also you have a feeling of happiness because they are mentally still strong, not broken by serious things they went through. They want to live. They want to continue their life despite terrible things happened to them. And for this all, I think we all, whether it is humanitarian or development organizations, we should all support this.”

[BONESSI] Last question Farrukh, what would you like the international community, to know about urban warfare and its long term effects on communities? 

[FARRUKH] “What I say now is on the basis of not only what I have seen, but on the basis of what I lived. I lived in conflict for six years, and, I was in many countries, post-conflict countries and conflict countries. So, you know, unfortunate, trend of urban warfare these days, which is really unfortunate because it causes a lot of not only, destruction to infrastructure or some, facilities, which are important for people’s lives, but it destroys much more lives of people. Because we are talking about urban communities, we are talking about densely populated communities. So what I say here is that we all are human beings. “You know, as individuals, we need to have a human, heart to understand this and just simply realize how tough it is and how unacceptable it is to have such situations. And with ICRC’s mandate and international humanitarian law, I think promoting this law more and more talking about this law, awareness raising about this law and most importantly, implementation of this law. I think these are the things today very important because impact of urban warfare is on the examples of Mosul or other countries we see, and that are much more devastating for people and much more devastating for economic and social environment that people live, which will take more and more years to rebuild. And if you allow me it, it just reminds me about one small poetry which talks about humanity, which says, ‘Human beings are members of a whole. In creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.”

[PAUSE with background music]

[BONESSI] That last poem was from the 12th century, Persian poet, Saadi Shirazi. Thanks this week goes to my communication colleagues in Mosul Muyassar Mansour, Malavika Subba, and Hibba Al-Kabbawi.

If you’d like to learn more about our work in helping rebuild cities after urban warfare, you can visit our website at to view 3D models of civilian infrastructures damaged by urban conflict.  There you can also subscribe to the podcast. Also please take a moment to share the experience across your social platforms and follow us on, @ICRC_DC.

See you next time on Intercross.