People in the Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday celebrated their first Eid since being freed of ISIL control, although concerns for thousands of civilians trapped in a small area still held by the group cast a pall over the festivities.
Children gathered in squares on the eastern side of the city. Some played on old swings and others with toy guns and rifles, which were among the toys allowed by ISIL militants after they took over the city in June 2014.
The militants implemented an extreme version of Islam which associated toys with a face, such as dolls, with idolatry. They encouraged youngsters to train on weapons and changed textbooks to reflect their military ideology. Children were asked to add up bombs or bullets in maths exercises.
Eid prayers were allowed, but festivities were not. Sunday’s Eid celebrations were overshadowed by the fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIL in the Old City in western Mosul, where the militants are now besieged.
"It won’t be real Eid before we return home," said a man in his 60s, displaced from the western side of the city, across the Tigris river. Some expressed sadness over the destruction by ISIL on Wednesday of the Old City’s 850-year-old Grand Al Nuri mosque and its leaning 45-metre minaret.
"Eid is not the same," said another man, who declined to give his name. Iraqi forces took the eastern side of Mosul from ISIL in January, after 100 days of fighting, and started attacking the western side in February.
"As our heroic forces are closer to declaring final victory over the Daesh gangs, I offer my most sincere congratulations for Eid Al Fitr," prime minister Haider Al Abadi said. Iraqi forces now hold two thirds of the Old City, a senior commander said on Sunday.
"Sixty-five to 70 per cent of the Old City has been liberated, there is less than a square kilometre left to retake," said Lt Col Salam Al Obeidi of the Counter-Terrorism Service that has spearheaded the assault.
Only "a few hundred" ISIL fighters remain in the area, he said. Another CTS officer said more than 50,000 civilians, about half the Old City’s population, remained behind ISIL lines. Iraqi authorities had hoped to declare victory in Mosul before the start of Eid.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse