• Mosul and its people are in the process of adjusting to life after I.S. rule. (SBS Dateline)
The city of Mosul is adjusting to life after I.S. rule. This week Dateline meets people trying to revive the city, its culture and its monuments, in a place that's faced so much devastation.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017 - 21:30

How does a city and its people rebuild from devastation?

Now liberated after three years of life under I.S., the people of Mosul are slowly transitioning back to life as it once was.

“Our lives were so suppressed,” Jumana Najim Abdullah, a beautician from Mosul, tells reporter Amos Roberts, in this week’s Dateline. “So many things were forbidden to us. They forbade us from doing many things that we loved.”

“[Now] I feel that a heavy burden has been lifted, that I can go out, do what I want and be free and comfortable.”

Mosul fell to I.S. in June 2014, after insurgents overran the Iraqi Army. It is estimated around 500,000 people fled the city after the initial takeover by the I.S. insurgency. The city’s rich culture was displaced along with its people and replaced with a way of life based on a ruthless, puritan interpretation of Islamic law. Punishments like floggings, mutilation or death were introduced for crimes such as smoking cigarettes, using a mobile phone or performing music.

Minority Assyrian and Christian citizens were expelled or killed, unless they converted to Islam. Scores of people were executed without a public trial and locals were regularly forced to watch public executions. Important cultural and religious monuments across the city were destroyed.

Musician and barber Khalid Waleed says it feels as if these years were deleted from his life. During the period of I.S. control he taught himself to play music in private – risking flogging and possible death to continue his passion. For Khalid, playing music was a form of rebellion against the regime.

“In our society, there are people who were born, and have lived and died, without ever having seen live music, without ever having seen theatre,” he says.

Cultural changes like the re-introduction of music have changed the mood in Mosul – especially the level of fear residents live with each day.

For Jumana, a single mother, the cloud of danger hanging over everyday life is no longer. These days she doesn’t see people being slaughtered in the street when out shopping with her 10-year-old daughter Mariam. Since the city’s liberation she’s opened her own beauty salon, something that was banned while I.S. ruled Mosul.

“Beauty is a form of distinctiveness,” she says. “They didn’t want anyone to be distinctive, especially not women – they don’t want women to be distinctive.”

“I’ve seen many women who would say…‘I’ve hated Islam. If this is Islam, I’m willing to change my religion’. I met many young women who said this and they were adamant about it.”

While I.S. is now gone, there are still reports of I.S. sleeper cells in Mosul, and mines, booby traps and bombs remain scattered across the  city.

The city is repairing, but it will take time.

“The city has changed,” said Khalid. “Some people continue to be fearful. They’ve become fearful, they keep thinking that I.S. still exists.”

“I’m comfortable now,” says Jumana. “But fully happy as I was before, I don’t think I can be. The city is in ruins.”

“Sometimes when I go to bed, I’m chased by nightmares. I dream I’m still living under I.S..”

Watch the full story at the top of the page.

Watch this story in Arabic


Mosul’s struggle to rebuild after I.S.
Only months after Mosul was liberated from I.S. rule, the city and its people are rebuilding from the ground up. But despite new hope peace remains fragile here, writes Dateline reporter Amos Roberts.
After years of destruction, Iraqis are rescuing their cultural identity
I.S.'s destruction of Mosul is an attack on the historic and cultural heritage of Iraq, an attempt to erase its national identity.
Erasing history: why Islamic State is blowing up ancient artefacts
It’s difficult to measure the unprecedented scale of cultural destruction I.S. has inflicted on Iraq.


Reporter: Amos Roberts

Producer: Amos Roberts, Meggie Palmer, Joel Tozer

Fixer: Hawras K Yassen

Editor: Simon Phegan, David Potts


They were hostages, held by a band of fanatics who emerged from the desert and captured their city.

KHALID WALEED, MUSICIAN (Translation):  It is exactly as if those three years were deleted from our lives. They were wiped out of our lives.

JUMANA NAJIM ABDULLAH, BEAUTICIAN (Translation):  Our lives were so suppressed. So many things were forbidden to us. They forbade us from doing many things that we loved.

They lived in a terrifying world in which you could be flogged, mutilated or even killed for the simple things that make you human – using a mobile phone, smoking a cigarette, singing a song.

JUMANA NAJIM ABDULLAH (Translation):  They used to call them distractions from prayers and worship and these things.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  Music is my life. I can never give it up.  No matter what!

Islamic State is gone, but it’s still not considered safe to stay in Mosul overnight. I’ve been warned about kidnappings and I.S. sleeper cells. It takes me up to three hours to get here each day from Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.  The damage still looks so fresh.

It’s easy to savor the simple pleasures of morning after the waking nightmare of life under I.S.  It was the close bond between Jumana Najim Abdullah and her daughter that helped them survive.

JUMANA NAJIM ABDULLAH (Translation):  When I’d take my daughter shopping, wearing burqas, according to the code they imposed on us, we would see them slaughtering people on the streets. So you had to feel terrified.  I actually feel that the events made me stronger and more independent but as far as I can see my daughter has become more fearful.

Despite 45 degree heat every part of the female body had to be covered – even the eyes.  I spoke to one woman who didn’t leave her house for over two years. It was especially tough for a single mum like Jumana - women weren’t allowed outside without a male escort.

JUMANA NAJIM ABDULLAH (Translation):  One time I was walking in the market.  They held me forcibly and said, “Why are you alone?  Where’s the male guardian?” A man was passing by.  I said “He’s my uncle.” He didn’t deny it.  He said “My niece.  We’re together.”

Jumana treasures the independence that comes from running her own business. She’s the proud owner of this beauty salon…  But in a world where women were punished for wearing the color red, it’s no surprise that beauticians were banned. 

JUMANA NAJIM ABDULLAH (Translation):  As far as I see it, beauty is a form of distinctiveness. They didn't want anyone to be distinct, especially not women, they didn’t want women to be distinctive. So the ugly woman who doesn’t look after herself or her beauty and who is neglectful of herself, to them is the perfect woman.

To ensure that she and her daughter didn’t starve, Jumana defied IS by working from home in secret. But she did get caught once by the morality police.

JUMANA NAJIM ABDULLAH (Translation):  Close your eyes. Don't open them.

She was going to be whipped using a cable that had metal spikes at the end and forbidden from screaming. But once again, Jumana’s quick thinking helped her.

JUMANA NAJIM ABDULLAH (Translation):  The woman who was to flog me had thick eyebrows, and her face wasn’t done properly, so I made a suggestion to her. I said “It's okay you’ll flog me but I can still do your face and look after you.”  So she was convinced and I did her face and so on and, praise be to God, she said “I won’t flog you.”

I have seen many women who would say, “I hate…”, frankly, they would say “I've hated Islam.  If this is Islam, I am willing to change my religion.”  I have met many young women who said this and they were adamant about it.  “If Islam is like this, I don't want to be a Muslim.”  Many girls and women said this. “If this is Islam, I will leave it. I don't think that this is Islam. 

The years of brutality have left their mark – especially on her daughter.

JUMANA NAJIM ABDULLAH (Translation):  She’s scared of everything. Whenever there’s shooting – gunshots, or even fireworks – she gets scared and asks, “Mum are they coming back?”.  She's become very fearful.  Even now she still is.

I’m comfortable now. But fully happy as I was before, I don’t think I can be.  The city is in ruins.  There are scenes that have planted fear in our hearts.  Sometimes when I go to bed, I’m chased by nightmares. I dream I’m still living under I.S.  I’m walking around in a burqa, or I’ve forgotten it and the Morality Police will punish me. Even in my sleep I’m frightened.

There’s barely any treatment for post-traumatic stress here, just a relentless struggle to get by.  On the east bank of the Tigris, Jumana and Mariam have a new chance to unwind.

JUMANA NAJIM ABDULLAH (Translation):  It’s the first time I’m here after the events, it has been three years or maybe more. I wanted to come to this place that I was deprived of.  I feel that a heavy burden has been lifted, that I can go out, do what I want and be free and comfortable.

They’re here to see a puppet show for Mosul’s kids, which was written and directed by Khalid – the musician we met earlier.  It would be an ordinary enough undertaking anywhere else, but in Mosul – where the performing arts were banned under I.S. – this is truly ground-breaking.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  We are here today as the Mosul Youth group. We’re having a rehearsal just now and we’ll be ready for the performance shortly. Our message today… most of our messages are directed at kids.  What happened to the city hurt the kids the most. 

My dear friends, please step back so that everyone can see. 

Mosul has always been a very conservative city, and to begin with, Islamic State enjoyed a lot of support here. But many people are fed up with extremism – and children like Mariam are once again being encouraged to dream.



PUPPET (Translation):  Do you know who will serve the country?

PUPPET 2 (Translation):  Who?

PUPPET (Translation):  Me.

PUPPET 2 (Translation):  How?

PUPPET (Translation):  When I grow up, I will study architectural engineering.  I will be a successful structural engineer and I will rebuild the buildings and the schools destroyed by war.


JUMANA NAJIM ABDULLAH (Translation):  Seeing Mariam happy today?  I like this feeling actually.  It’s been so long since my daughter had a change or saw such things.

MARIAM (Translation):  My God! He’s my darling. He’s smart and cute. I hold my darling close.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  I felt the children’s happiness.  We felt their happiness and this is our mission.  In our society there are people in our society who were born, and have lived and died, without ever seeing live music, without ever having seen theatre.

Until recently, even dropping round to a friend’s house to play some music was unthinkable. Apart from religious singing, all music was banned under I.S.  Teaching himself to play in secret, Khalid Waleed found solace in music – but it was also an act of rebellion against the nihilism of I.S.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  As much as possible I used to block the doors and the windows.

REPORTER:  What could have happened if someone had heard you?

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  You could be subjected to flogging.  That was the least that might happen.  It could reach up to 100 lashes or more, but mainly you could expect to be killed.

REPORTER:  Very nice!

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  Thank you. Sometimes when I play the oud have some noise, you heard this sound?

His instrument is a scarred survivor, a bit like Mosul itself.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  And ah it have much damage.  This one…

REPORTER:  The cracks.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  Two, three four!

It’s hard to imagine that something so beautiful and so harmless could put your life at risk – and even endanger your family. 

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  My father and my mother always wanted me to stop playing. “Stop, give up music.  It’s not the right time.  You’ll cause us problems.  You’ll get us arrested.”  But I couldn’t.  I tried to quit.  I put the oud away.  I’d put the oud away for hours, only to bring it out again.  

Most evenings, Khalid hangs out with his friend, Mustafa – a famous Iraqi poet, and keen chef.

REPORTER:  Do all Iraqi men cook this well?

MUSTAFA:  No – I’m the only one!  Me, Mustafa al- Hamdani.

Without fear – they talk openly about extremism… and now do it as loudly as they like.

MUSTAFA (Translation):  In the name of religion, in the name of religion they came. And in the name of religion, they slaughtered us.

Tell me, what this religion is? Give us a break. You badly distorted the image of God, I.S. came, left and died.

Hell, graveyards and death, you’ve made everything dark. 

REPORTER:  Do you think this is a different city now, to the one it was three years ago?

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  The city has changed. Perhaps some people continue to be fearful.  They’ve become fearful, they keep thinking that I.S. still exists, they still keep the same old social customs of “No, this is forbidden, it’s shameful, it’s forbidden”.  But I can see that the youth have changed and…

MUSTAFA (Translation):  They’re more educated.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  Exactly they’ve become more educated and they offer a lot to the city.  So everyone will see the youth and will be influenced by them - the old, even the children. So we’ll see a better future for the city.

Behind this roller door is where Khalid practices his other creative outlet.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  It's one of my hobbies. Just as I like music, I like cutting hair. I enjoy it when I cut someone's hair. No one has ever told me, “This is what you have to do.” I learnt it by myself.

Only one hair style was allowed. Anything that might express individuality or attract female attention was forbidden.

REPORTER:  Could you cut someone's hair like this last year?

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  No, actually we couldn’t. There were laws stating that hair had to be of equal length, the same style all over.  So we couldn't have two steps, light here and heavy here. No, that was forbidden we weren't allowed to. We couldn't do that.  Some would be like, “Give me this haircut, I won't tell.” And he would be a spy for I.S, so if you gave him the haircut, he'd report you, as they were spies.

This is my picture with a beard under I.S. rule. It was a full beard. I like a beard but I like it to be defined and trimmed. But that was prohibited.   I look like so ugly in this picture. I hate but… I don’t like this photo but I’m keeping it as a painful reminder. I will keep it.

The beard came off the day after liberation, when men were finally free to walk around clean shaven.

REPORTER:  What was it like when you could finally cut hair the way you wanted to?

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  I had forgotten how to cut hair. I started cutting his hair and trying to remember… “What do I do next?”  But it turned out all right. I didn't ruin his hair.

The battle for Mosul laid waste to large parts of the city, killing thousands of its residents. When I visit West Mosul, I.S. - made its last stand, I can still smell the rotting corpses in the rubble. Most of the people who lived here are now sheltering in camps outside the city, unsure when they'll be able to return.

Recovering would be slow but in East Mosul, which was liberated first, life is pretty much back to normal. Khalid and his fellow musicians can carry their instruments openly for the first time in years. After liberation, Khalid formed a band with three friends. Even cafes were forbidden under I.S. so everybody here today is relishing new-found freedoms. Mosul is at the centre of Iraq's explosive ethnic and religious divides.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  Now, we are present everywhere in the city.  We play freely at the university and on the streets and we usually create flash mobs on the streets and people are very keen to watch. 

Mosul is at the centre of Iraq’s explosive ethnic and religious divides – it’s a majority Sunni city that’s home to many minorities, in a country dominated by Shia. It was these divisions that opened the door to Islamic State here… 

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  One, two three.

But today Khalid's band is warming up for a festival promoting tolerance and reconciliation.

REPORTER:  Are you excited to perform today?

HAKAM:  Yeah!  Of course. Of course. It's a big thing today, like one of the biggest festivals that's happened in Mosul from a long time ago. We didn't have like such a huge festival and this powerful meaning. So we are going to play a piece which is called Peace at the Peace Festival.

As the band does a sound check, thousands of people wait to be allowed inside. The atmosphere is electric. Under I.S. crowds were only permitted for prayers or public executions. Security is tight, though. Peace in Iraq is always fragile and there are fears IS could still launch terrorist attacks.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  There was a war and it ended. The soldiers played a role in this war.  We are a different type of soldier.  We are the future of the new Mosul, the future of the new Mosul. I.S. came, left and died. We will revive whatever died in this city.  We’ll revive it, God willing, through art, through painting... through all types of Arts.

SPEAKER (Translation):  We don’t have an opening speech but a success story, despite this city being presented in the media as destroyed, ruined and ill-fated.  True, the city has been through war but we will rebuild Mosul.

I'm the only foreigner to hear these optimistic messages of peace but I can't stick around to watch Khalid's band perform. Ironically, I have to leave because this city of peace is still considered dangerous after dark.

REPORTER:  Khalid, I'm very sorry but we have to go. I have to go. I'm not going to be able to see you play because it's getting so late. I have to leave a peace festival in order to be safe.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  I hope you see safety all the time.

REPORTER:   I hope you are safe and I hope you have peace here in Mosul. It was lovely meeting you. Peace.

KHALID WALEED (Translation):  Thank you.



amos roberts


story producers

meggie palmer

joel tozer



hawras k yassen


story editor

simon phegan

david potts



amanda copp

jarni blakkarly


original music

vicki hansen


14th November 2017