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Iraqi Fight Against ISIS Moves Deeper Into Mosul


Well, let's hear now from the people who escaped the city of Mosul. They've been talking with NPR's Alice Fordham as Iraqi forces try to retake that city from ISIS.


ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: On a grey, windswept patch of the Nineveh Plain, workers are hammering in tent pegs at this camp for displaced people, east of Mosul. They're handing out mattresses and blankets to thousands of people every day. Many have crossed frontlines under fire to get here. I speak with recent arrival Mohammad al Daoudi, who lived more than two years under ISIS in a village on the outskirts of the city.

MOHAMMAD AL DAOUDI: (Through interpreter) ISIS fighters came and tried to make us go into Mosul.

FORDHAM: It was last week that Daoudi says he and other families were forced into their cars. ISIS wanted to use them as human shields. But when the fighters went to round up the rest of the village, he and about 150 families made a run for it. ISIS fired after them.

AL DAOUDI: (Through interpreter) They attacked us very hard. One of us was injured, and we had to leave him behind. We have one, here, in the camp, who was injured by mortars also.

FORDHAM: About half the people in his village got away. The others, including his brother and sister, are now on the front line. He weeps as he talks about it.

AL DAOUDI: (Through interpreter) The only thing we want is that they get out safe. That's all.

FORDHAM: In a tent nearby, several women are recovering from their journey. I speak to one who doesn't give her name. They're still afraid of ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: She tells me ISIS fighters used her roof as a sniper's hideout. Iraqi security forces fired back.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: "For three days, the whole family hid in the storeroom," she says. "We couldn't leave because we were under constant attack," no food, no water for the children. Finally, the gunmen were forced deeper into the city, and the family fled.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: "It was difficult," she says. "We were on foot in the street." But at last, the family made it to the Iraqi army, who were waiting nearby. As I leave her tent, I see more people arriving. Then, I go to visit Lieutenant General Bassem al Taee.

BASSEM AL TAEE: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: He is leading the Iraqi army's effort to extract civilians safely. He's expecting the numbers of people fleeing and being injured or killed to increase.

AL TAEE: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: "I think the main battle hasn't started yet," Taee says. He thinks ISIS's tactics, here on the east side of the city - bombs and snipers - are not seriously aimed at holding ground. He thinks the fight will become harder on the western side of the city...

AL TAEE: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: ...And in the town of Tal Afar, west of the Mosul, because it's close to the border with ISIS-held Syria. So it's easier for ISIS to bring in supplies and fighters. At a low estimate, he thinks his men will be helping 100,000 people to leave the city in the coming weeks. Alice Fordham, NPR News, northern Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.