The first sign Ghaith Ali had that Islamic State militants were still active in “liberated” western Mosul was a mysterious square object on the floor of a house he entered to make it ready for returning families.
Suspecting explosives, the Iraqi policeman told the rest of his patrol to back away, but then he brushed up against the near-invisible tripwire. The blast burned his arm, sprayed him with shrapnel, and broke his leg.
The second sign Mr. Ali’s unit received of ISIS remnants was two days later, when a jihadist emerged from a basement hideout, bearing a rifle and combat vest laden with grenades, and raced to a rooftop to attack their checkpoint.
A woman spotted the long-haired militant and alerted the policemen, who crept upstairs and took him out with a grenade toss.
As Ali recovered in hospital, members of his unit sent him gruesome photos in hospital as proof of their conquest – and of the ever-present danger lingering in Mosul, which for three years served as the main ISIS stronghold in Iraq.
The slowly mounting toll from the building sweeps and searches for ISIS tunnels serves as a grim reminder that one month after victory was declared over ISIS in western Mosul, the process of making the city safe for its residents still faces perilous hurdles.
Nevertheless Iraqi security forces are determined to make progress, the culmination of a nine-month siege of Mosul that mobilized an alliance of 100,000 Iraqi security forces, Kurdish peshmerga, and Shiite militias backed up by US airstrikes.
Entire warrens of western Mosul remain sealed off by Iraqi forces, as mop-up operations continue and unexploded ordnance, bodies, and ISIS sleeper cells are identified and cleared up.
“Our mission was to clear houses before civilians come back, to say ‘Your house is good,’” says Ali, a short-haired young man with a thin mustache and slight build, speaking in an Erbil hospital for war victims run by the Italian agency Emergency.
“The threats are explosive devices and ISIS sleeper cells. You can never guess what ISIS will do,” says Ali, noting that the blast that disabled him some 19 days ago is just one of the hazards that still haunt the greatest victory by Iraqi forces in their two-year fight to crush ISIS and expel it from Iraq.
‘COLLAPSE’ OF TERRORIST STATE
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claimed victory in Mosul on July 10, declaring the “failure and the collapse of the terrorist…