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Iraq's Prime Minister Celebrates Win Over ISIS In Mosul


Iraq's prime minister traveled to Mosul yesterday to declare the city liberated from the Islamic State. This battle has run for months, and now much of the city is emptied. At least a thousand Iraqi security force members were killed and thousands of civilians. NPR's Jane Arraf is in Mosul, and she joins us now. Jane, just describe what you have seen. What does the city look like today?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, it depends what part of the city you're in, Rachel. But in West Mosul, which was basically the last stand for ISIS fighters, it's absolutely devastated. And now we've all seen city blocks in war zones that have been destroyed - neighborhoods that have been destroyed. But this is really such a stark example of an entire side of an entire city that has been devastated. We drove past streets where there wasn't a single building standing.

We're now in one of the few remaining areas in West Mosul where things are coming back to life. There are army trucks going by. There are ambulances going by. And even a couple of shops have opened. But in the residential areas, Iraqi security forces are still preventing civilians from going in. We did go in with a family that was looking for the body of their son, who had been beheaded by ISIS. But apart from that, it was deserted.

MARTIN: That's grim - a family looking for the remains of their son. I imagine that you've been able to talk with some folks there. Have you spoken with Iraqi soldiers who were in that battle?

ARRAF: Yes, lots of them. And, well, it was a celebration. Abadi was here. I mean, they have a lot to celebrate, really. These are Iraqi forces that disappeared when ISIS came in and took over Mosul three years ago. And it's been Iraqis, with U.S. air support and coalition air support, who have fought and died. I talked to some Iraqi soldiers just after Abadi came. And they said, please don't forget our dead. And when we're talking about the Iraqi war dead, we're talking about several thousand members of the security forces.

And some plans - some Iraqi officials believe it's up to - it's tens of thousands of civilians dead. The family looking for their son wasn't unusual. We went into one house where there were concrete blocks marking the family that had been buried in the garden. There's so - so, essentially, Rachel, while there is celebration, there's also a real sense of mourning here for what was lost.

MARTIN: Yeah, so the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, has been there, making this victory tour. How's he been received? I mean, especially when you think about those families who have lost loved ones to ISIS, are they feeling vindicated amidst their grief?

ARRAF: It really depends who you talk to. And that's kind of how you gauge everything in Iraq since 2003. If you're one of the many families who has lost a loved one, either in the civil war or in the war that toppled Saddam Hussein or one of these battles against ISIS, you view it differently than if you're someone who has survived relatively unscathed.

But, regarding Abadi, he is getting political credit for doing this, but he faces a lot of challenges. And it's not clear that he has the power - although he has the willingness - to pull this country together. The woman I was with earlier, looking for her dead son, was saying Mosul is lost. Iraq is lost. And that's the feeling that a lot of people have here today.

MARTIN: And there's sound behind you, trucks and traffic. So the fighting is over, and now the next step for Mosul - the next chapter begins. Jane Arraf will be there covering it for us. Jane, thank you so much for sharing your reporting.

ARRAF: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.