The tunnels offered the families a shelter. Around 30 people, including women and children, sought refuge in a single home at one end of the street.Before the fighting broke out, little Hawra’ along with her mother and two relatives used the rat lines to move through three buildings and return to their house to bake bread, wash and grab more clothes.
About a dozen ISIS fighters were at the intersection that day, Ala’a believes. Soon the shooting intensified and then the strikes started.
“There was dust everywhere,” Ala’a tells us. “My mother started to scream … Rocks and debris were falling down on the house we were in. She said go see what happened.”
Three homes on the block were leveled including the one with his family still inside.
All he could hear was his daughter’s feeble cry.
“I could just hear her voice,” he recalls. “There was a block that had fallen on her. There was also a metal frame — that’s what lodged the shrapnel in her face and her eyes. I screamed for her mother, my aunt and uncle but no response.”
Pulling her from the rubble, she was barely recognizable; she was black and looked charred.
They begged the ISIS fighters to allow them to leave. Instead, an Iraqi ISIS member offered to kill his little girl, Hawra’.
“He (an Iraqi ISIS member) said ‘I could just shoot her,'” Ala’a remembers. “He said ‘why do you want to save her, she’s going to die anyways.'”
They even pleaded to go further into ISIS territory in pursuit of medical assistance, but Ala’a says an Egyptian ISIS member, who he thinks was the head of that unit, told them they couldn’t leave because ISIS were using the remaining civilians as human shields.
Ala’a tried to clean Hawra’ up; she was moaning as he tried to give her some water.
He adds: “I saw my wife the next day, I saw her leg and her intestines so I covered her in a blanket and left.”
It took three days for the Iraqi security forces to liberate the neighborhood. Three days to get his little girl medical help.
Others helped by burying the bodies of his wife, aunt and uncle.
That was not the deadliest of the strikes that day. Around the corner, a multi-story building was also brought down, where more than 100 people are believed to have sheltered.
And these are hardly the only allegations of civilian casualties.
Every day in Mosul, a civilian population held hostage by ISIS is caught between their captors and their liberators. Airstrikes, bombs, bullets and explosions leading to deaths don’t make headlines.
Ala’a whispers when he mentions his wife’s death in the presence of Hawra’ but she hears us talking about her eyes.
“Look, I can open them,” she murmurs, using her tiny fingers to lift her eyelids ever so slightly.
Then she asks for her mother again.