|Major Ahsan Rasem and his colleagues of the Civil Defense in Mosul @Judit Neurink|
by Judit Neurink
Maj. Ahsan Rasem recognizes members of the Islamic State (IS) by their clothes and explosives belts. Rasem is the team leader of the Civil Defense unit that is recovering bodies in the Meydan neighborhood of Mosul. A year after the liberation of Iraq’s second-largest city, Rasem and his men have been sent to free this last, largely destroyed neighborhood from the sickening stench of death so civilians can return and rebuild their houses.
This is where they started last month, at the river, removing the floating corpses of dozens of IS fighters who were shot here last year while trying to escape the carnage by crossing the river. After that, they started working on the rubble. In just three weeks, some 1,300 bodies that had lain here for almost a year have been recovered.
“Most of them are not Arabs. They are from Holland, Georgia, Chechnya and other countries,” Rasem said. Some identity papers have been found, some with the bodies, some just lying around. Rasem delivers the bodies to the morgue in Mosul. He does not take pictures either of the place where they were found or of their faces for possible identification. “Usually, there is hardly anything left,” he said.
According to Iraqi media citing government sources, some 9,000 civilian corpses have been recovered since the liberation. Much of the work has been done in response to pleas from family members. Because nobody asked for the bodies of the IS fighters, most of them remained under the rubble. They were only recovered after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the Civil Defense to clean up the last remaining areas of Mosul, the neighborhoods that were IS’ last strongholds in the city.