Victory in Mosul, but at what cost?

I awoke to news today that Iraqi forces were claiming victory in Mosul. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul to personally deliver the message to the world: ISIS had been driven out of the northern Iraqi city that had been the extremist group’s crown jewel.

Victory. Yes. But at tremendous cost. The ancient city of Ninevah will never be the same.

ISIS took hold of Mosul in June, 2014. Thousands of Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen and other minorities fled under threat of forced conversions to the ISIS brand of Islam. Those who remained endured three years of the so-called Islamic State and its brutality and intolerance.

The campaign to oust ISIS began in October 2016. The fighting was brutal. Iraq’s second largest city is left in ruins; many of its ancient sites destroyed by ISIS. That includes the historic al-Nuri mosque with its leaning minaret known as Habda.

Thousands of Iraqis were killed; more than a million people were displaced from their homes.

I was in Iraq last year when the campaign to retake Mosul was still in its early stages. I visited many of the camps set up for IDPs. Internally displaced people. That’s the term used for people who are forced to flee their homes for safety. Really, they are refugees in their homeland, separated from loved ones and the lives they once led.

Here are some of the children I met in the camps.

Yes, there is victory in Mosul. But what does the future look like for these children? They have been torn from the safety of the homes they knew and out of school for many months. Where will they return to? Will they even return?

Look into the eyes of one of these children. Imagine if this was your little boy or girl. Think of these children when you hear the news today. Think of what victory feels like for them.

Read a few of my recent Iraq stories published on CNN.com:

As Iraqi city of Mosul braces for battle with ISIS, its people recall gentler times

The Iraqi women who escaped ISIS but lost everything

Mosul blogger defies ISIS by listening to violinist Itzhak Perlman

Hiding from ISIS: Women fight for survival by staying put

In biblical lands of Iraq, Christianity in peril after ISIS

Voices of Iraq: Minorities on the edge of extinction

Good Morning, Mosul: Pirate radio risks death to fight ISIS on airwaves

In Iraq, thousands of terrorism’s victims go unnamed

 

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Death, dreams and dread

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I had a dream last night. It was the same one I’ve had since August 20, when I learned of Jim Foley’s death.

A man in black holds a small knife in his left hand. He is too cowardly to show his face. But he holds up Jim’s face. For the world to see.

I have been told that if one uses a small knife for such a brutal method of execution, it is an excruciatingly painful way to die. Not like the guillotine; not like a heavy blade making a clean chop.

I dream this every night. I have dreamed it before. After Daniel Pearl’s murder in February 2002 by al-Qaida mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

I do not understand people who wish to kill journalists and aid workers. I hope I will never understand them.

I know this: that if my dreams are so troubling, then how traumatic are these acts to the loved ones of those subjected to such heinous acts? I cannot imagine.

Some Muslims in that part of the world have told me that no less heinous acts happen in America each year. Murder in the most chilling fashion. Rape. Assault. Torture. Grisly crimes that make headlines — and some that do not.

But one act does not beget another. One crime does not justify another.

Jim was a journalist who cared. So was Steven Sotloff. David Haines dedicated his life to the betterment of others. How many more innocents will be killed in this horrific way?

Will Alan Henning be next? His friends pleaded with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known by the acronym ISIS, to let him go. But the men who make up ISIS do not know the meaning of compassion. They make al Qaida look mellow.

I will see Jim Foley in my dreams tonight. Again. I am sure of it.

And, in the morning I will again awake saluting his courage, saluting all those who put themselves in harm’s way for making this world a little bit better.

Give to the James Foley Legacy Fund. 

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Remembering 26/11

A year ago, I was making my way to Mexico City, dreaming of the serene canals of Xochimilco and the burst of a hot tamale in my mouth.
By my heart was heavy.
In my homeland, Mumbai was under siege, attacked by gunmen in hotels, the main train station, a popular restaurant and a Jewish cultural center. More than 160 people perished on that day that came to be known as “26/11.”
I watched the flames engulf the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, a majestic landmark in India’s largest city. The stairwell there is mesmerizing. British Raj architecture at its finest.
On my last visit to Mumbai, I had stayed at the Oberoi-Trident in a room that offered a view of Marine Drive and the waves of the Arabian Sea.
Both hotels were scenes of tragedy a year ago.
Mumbaikers are like New Yorkers. They never stop in a city that hardly sleeps.
But they did stop on Thursday. Just as they had a year ago. Except then, it was forced upon them. Today, they chose to pause — and remember.
Fallen citizens and local heroes. And what it’s like to survive.
In the CNN newsroom, I sat quietly in a corner to write about the anniversary. Tragedy is always difficult to convey. It’s that much harder when it becomes personal.
Read the story: http://bit.ly/8wGQgc
And with each bite of turkey, give thanks for all we have.