Iraqi Christians were met with the sight of ruins and destroyed property upon revisiting their hometown Bartella which the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had abandoned in the heat of Iraqi forces' battle to retake the militant group's stronghold in Mosul.
For the first time since ISIS took over Bartella more than two years ago, Said Shaba returned to his ransacked house to find only a damaged picture of Jesus and a disk documenting his daughter's wedding. The Iraqi Christian father's safe, which contained his savings, was stolen by the militants and his two-storey house was burned, Reuters details.
"They destroyed and stole everything," said Shaba. 'They even took away our safe."
Aside from that, Shaba's petrol storage facility located a few blocks from his home, was also destroyed in the clashes between ISIS and Iraqi forces. Seeing the picture of Jesus on the floor, his wife Nidhal kissed it and put up on a wall.
"They have left nothing intact including windows, doors and walls," said Shaba's daughter Milano Yousuf. "This CD is more important to me than all the furniture. It is irreplaceable."
As of now, Bartella residents still cannot return to their hometown for good because the army is using it and other villages as forward base in the battle to retake Mosul. Officers said the army only allows selected civilians to enter the town to inspect their homes and bring some of their things with them.
Ahmed Ali, a Shiite from Bartella, said their life in Erbil is very difficult because they have to pay rent and there are very few jobs available. Still, he is hopeful that they may be able to go back to their home soon.
Meanwhile, Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) have so far liberated at least 16 villages near Tal'Afar since they entered the third phase of the battle for Mosul. Spokesman Ahmad Assadi said earlier this month that they have inflicted heavy casualties on ISIS during their offensives, Al Masdar News reports.
Assadi also said they have already liberated the Tal'Afar Airport. The Iraqi PMU is moving on with their next operations in the battle for Mosul.