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saving mosul

'I didn't want to know how chaotic it was going to be... If I had, maybe I wouldn't have gone'

John Reilly talks to after his trip to Mosul directly after the siege.

John Reilly / YouTube

LAST MONTH, IRAQ declared victory against the Islamic State group in Mosul after a gruelling months-long campaign, dealing the biggest defeat yet to the extremist group.

The country’s leader congratulated “the heroic fighters and the Iraqi people on the achievement of the major victory”, three years after Isis declared its self-styled caliphate from when it first captured the city.

But the battle to save Mosul is still ongoing. As people try to return to normal life, the lack of services and infrastructure is the next big problem for a city where tens of thousands still live.

As volunteers and aid organisations slowly start entering the city, an Irish journalist was one of the first people to enter the city after the siege broke.

“There are extremely limited resources, there’s just not enough to go around,” John Reilly tells

He is a researcher with RTÉ who volunteered in Mosul after seeing a friend’s Facebook post which showed him working at the frontline with people who were desperate for food and water.

“I didn’t expect it to be quite as chaotic as it was,” he says.

Maybe I didn’t want to know how chaotic it was going to be… if I had, maybe I wouldn’t have gone.

Water points and suicide bombers

In a series of videos taken during his 10-day trip to volunteer in Mosul, Reilly shows the water and food collection points across the city.

The footage shows the intense demand for necessities, the scale of destruction in the city, and how residents have to rush from place to place because of the constant threat of suicide bombers whenever a large crowd assembles.

It is estimated that 3,800 people died in Mosul since August 2014 (not including those missing), and 900,000 people left the city in what’s been the biggest military operation in Iraq since the US invasion.

Reuters 20170729 An Iraqi man waits for supplies at Hammam al-Alil camp south of Mosul. Reuters / PA Images Reuters / PA Images / PA Images

In one part of Reilly’s videos, children run after and jump on the back of their supply truck, begging for food and water. In another, a child looking almost directly at the camera explains that he lost his food ticket, and begs for a food package.

Reilly says it’s not exploitative to film the city’s citizens if it raises awareness of the ongoing issue, thus prompting donations to stop people from dying.

“The videos might seem sensational, but we actually played it down.

Most of Iraq is functioning pretty well from what I’ve seen, But Mosul has been decimated; huge swathes of the city centre have been reduced to rubble.

He says if he wanted to be sensationalist or exploitative, he would have filmed and shown much more harrowing scenes.

“I saw a grown man trying to wrestle a can of powdered milk out of a six or seven-year-old boy’s hands,” he says, adding that the can wasn’t probably meant for the boy, but someone younger.

“And the boy wouldn’t let go.”

“Grown mothers fighting with each other over a bag of food… I’ve seen a dead body on the street near a water delivery point.

That’s not something you could easily forget.

Reilly says that the end of the siege for Mosul has left a vacuum in its wake, and that the threat of Isis’ return is still too great for large organisations and NGOs to get involved yet.

That leaves humanitarian aid work to local, not-for-profit organisations and independent volunteers such as Reilly and his friend Dylan Longman.

The look of sheer desperation of the faces who have not drank water for days or weeks or even longer… it’s very agonising, there’s simply not enough aid. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

When asked why he began filming while in Mosul, he said it was to give the people themselves a voice, so they can “decide for themselves how urgent the situation is”.

John has no plans to return at the moment – he has a five-year-old son, so he needs to be responsible with his future. But if it becomes safer, he will return, he says.

John Reilly / YouTube

- With reporting from AFP

Read: ‘Isis welded our doors shut and rigged them with bombs’ – The civilians in the battle for Mosul

Read: Iraq declares victory over Isis after months-long battle in Mosul

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