Hunting ISIS

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NARRATOR: These are the soldiers of the 1st Commando Battalion. They are a special unit of Iraq’s elite Golden Division, trained for intense urban warfare. In the brutal battle for Mosul, the 1st Battalion is at the tip of the spear. Their job is to push into the city, killing or capturing ISIS fighters who are hiding among the local population.

Lt. ANMAR ALSHAMRY: [subtitles] For me and my brothers, this is our country, and we must protect it. We have to defend it until our last drop of blood is spilled.

NARRATOR: This squad is led by 25-year-old 1st Lieutenant Anmar Alshamry, a Sunni Muslim from Baghdad.

Lt. ANMAR ALSHAMRY: [subtitles] Just like we took Ramadi and Fallujah back from ISIS, we’ll do the same with Mosul. God willing, Iraq will be free of ISIS.

NARRATOR: Anmar’s unit pushes into the Tahreer district of eastern Mosul. They must root out ISIS street by street in an area still full of civilians.



MAN: They’re not here, but there are some in that house.


NARRATOR: Anmar leads his soldiers house to house looking for ISIS. They don’t trust the civilians. Anyone could be an ISIS sympathizer. And the civilians fear the soldiers.

YOUNG MAN: A curse on ISIS. They left us with nothing.

WOMAN: [trembling] May God protect you, uncle. May God protect you all, God willing.

SOLDIER: Can we go on the roof?

WOMAN: Feel free in this house. It’s yours. My daughter has been very scared since this morning.

SOLDIER: Record this coordinate. This house is clear.

SOLDIER: Do you know the family next door?

MAN: Yes.

SOLDIER: You’ll have to move in with them.

NARRATOR: Anmar’s unit has pushed ISIS back and needs to establish a base in the neighborhood.

Lt. ANMAR ALSHAMRY: We have to secure the next road.

SOLDIER: That one is not under control.

Lt. ANMAR ALSHAMRY: We all have to go. We need tall houses. If we go to the next road, who will secure this one?

NARRATOR: The soldiers occupy a house and move onto the rooftop.

1st SNIPER: Can you see these holes over there?

2nd SNIPER: Don’t worry about it.

1st SNIPER: Where did he shoot from?

2nd SNIPER: That side. That side.

NARRATOR: They set up sniper positions to look for ISIS gunmen and suicide attackers.

Mustafa Al-Ghazi is the unit’s best sniper. In such densely populated areas, it is difficult to distinguish fighters from civilians.

MUSTAFA AL-GHAZI: There he is.


MUSTAFA AL-GHAZI: Yes, he’s behind the door. He’s not on the road. Alawi, but these ones are families.

SNIPER: I swear they’re ISIS.

MUSTAFA AL-GHAZI: But they have no weapons.

SNIPER: But they know ISIS.

MUSTAFA AL-GHAZI: Look at this one running. Look at him. What do you think he is? This one, look at this one. Aren’t they families?

SNIPER: Maybe.

MUSTAFA AL-GHAZI: So what shall I do?

SNIPER: Yes, this one is a family.

MUSTAFA AL-GHAZI: Yes, that’s what I’m saying!

SNIPER: What the hell. Looks like a wedding.

SOLDIER: [to boy with white flag] Hey, go back in!

BOY: This is my house, I swear.

SOLDIER: Where do you want to go?

BOY: I just want to get something from my house and go back.

SOLDIER: No, you’ll get killed! You’ll get shot. Go back in now.

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: Sir, the street on my left isn’t under our control.

NARRATOR: Sergeant Naif al-Qairani has served in the Iraqi army for 11 years. He fought alongside U.S. Marines in 2006. This rooftop is the farthest he and the other soldiers have gotten into Mosul. The other side of the road is ISIS territory.

SOLDIER: [to group of civilians] Back off! This area is out of our control.

SOLDIER: Go back that way!

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: You want to cross over to ISIS, right? I’ll take you to ISIS myself.

CIVILIAN: My brother’s house is there!

SOLDIER: Not allowed! Go back in!

CIVILIAN: Brother, our kids are dying!

SOLDIER: Not allowed! Go back in!

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: This isn’t good. You know that, right? This isn’t good. We can’t just let anyone cross. ISIS will take houses and attack us.

SOLDIER: They are all crossing over to go to ISIS. They’re all ISIS.

NARRATOR: The family goes back into the house, but the soldiers spot an ISIS fighter. Then across the road where he was shooting, another family emerges.

MARYAM: Please God bless you! Don’t shoot. Please! Please, we are scared.

SOLDIER: Ashraf, hold it.

MARYAM: Please. God bless you! Our house is on the main road, and we couldn’t sleep all night! I even put a light on so you would see us and not shoot us!

SOLDIER: We know you were waiting. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. We are here for you.

MARYAM: Are you going to leave us here?

SOLDIER: No, we’re coming.

NARRATOR: The soldiers are not supposed to let civilians inside in case they are suicide bombers, but they allow the family in.

SOLDIER: Relax. Come in.

MARYAM: Hello. God bless you all. Let me kiss your head! So you’re really not ISIS? I told him, but he didn’t believe me!

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: Yes, the Islamic State is gone.

MARYAM: I saw you at 6:00 AM on the roof. And I told my husband, “These men have no beards.” But he didn’t believe me.

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: Just relax. Hang on.

MARYAM: I told my husband we’re not staying, and he said, “No. If we go, they’ll kill us.”

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: Don’t worry. The areas behind us are secure. The markets are open. Life is back to normal. Don’t worry. No Islamic State anymore!

NARRATOR: Forced to wear a veil in ISIS-controlled Mosul, this woman, Maryam, can now show her face in public for the first time in more than two years.

MARYAM: I kept an eye on you, you know? Every now and then─

SOLDIER: Sorry, what’s your name?

MARYAM: I am Maryam. God bless you. We were scared to death!

NARRATOR: A moment of calm. Residents come out of hiding to greet the soldiers.

MAN: [offering coffee] God bless you.

OLD WOMAN: We just couldn’t believe it when you arrived. We were too scared to step out at first!

SOLDIER: Still safer for you to stay indoors.

OLD WOMAN: Yes, this is just the beginning.

NARRATOR: But the soldiers still suspect ISIS fighters are hiding among the locals. The unit arrests two men. One of them was informed on by his wife, who said he had been fighting for ISIS.

SOLDIER: When we talk, you shut up.

SUSPECT: I respect that.

SOLDIER: [expletive] your respect.

SOLDIER: Turn your face against the wall.


SUSPECT: No, I’m not ISIS, I swear.

SOLDIER: If I find out that you’re with ISIS, I’ll kill you with my own hands.


SOLDIER: Your wife told us you were with them.

NARRATOR: After questioning, the men were eventually released.   But the soldiers detain another man they suspect of being an ISIS member.

SOLDIER: Look at his hair. He just had a haircut.

CAPTIVE: Can I say something? Go ask my roommate if I cut a single hair. My hair is like this.

SOLDIER: No, no. You’ve had a trim.

CAPTIVE: I swear.

SOLDIER: You just cut it!

CAPTIVE: Ask my roommate.

SOLDIER: [expletive] you.

SOLDIER: Where did you get this money from?

CAPTIVE: It’s mine, I swear. I’m a tiler.

SOLDIER: He has $500 and 20,000 dinars, and three ID cards.

SOLDIER: Show me your finger.

NARRATOR: They want to check the man’s trigger finger for signs he has been in battle.

SOLDIER: Show me your finger!

CAPTIVE: Sir, I swear I did nothing! Sir, I have nothing! ISIS destroyed us!

SOLDIER: His phone is empty. He deleted all the calls and messages.

NARRATOR: The soldiers later handed over the prisoner to Iraq’s military intelligence.

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: [on the phone] Hello!

CHILD: Hello.

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: How are you?

NARRATOR: Sergeant Naif’s family had to flee their home after ISIS captured their town in northern Iraq.

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: How are you, my daughter?

CHILD: Hello?

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: How are you, my darling?

CHILD: Daddy?

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: Yes, darling. Did you miss me?

CHILD: Yes, I missed you.

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: How much?

CHILD: When are you coming home, Daddy? I’m waiting for you.

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: OK, darling.

CHILD: Don’t forget to come home.


NARRATOR: As the unit is pushing into a new neighborhood, they come under a surprise attack from ISIS gunmen.

SOLDIER: What happened to him?

SOLDIER: His eye.

NARRATOR: Then an air strike from the U.S.-led coalition takes out the ISIS position. In the aftermath, a disturbing scene. The soldiers find the decapitated body of an ISIS fighter.   They say they don’t know who did it.

1st SOLDIER: [spits on body] Why did you come to this bloody land? Where can I find it? It’s gone. He’s not wearing a watch.

2nd SOLDIER: They don’t wear watches.

1st SOLDIER: Yes, they do. [showing his] This is an ISIS watch.

NARRATOR: Inside the Humvee, the soldiers listen to local ISIS radio. It’s an interview with a boy planning a suicide attack.

RADIO INTERVIEWER: There are only a few hours left for Abu Amara in this life. Have you got anything to say to the people listening to you now who are not already fighting for jihad here, or Turkey or the rest of the world?

BOY: We ask God to set them on the right path and to repent. And to make jihad. My dream is to go to heaven to be with the Prophet Muhammad and that God will accept me.

SOLDIER: Come on, they’re screaming, let’s go.

NARRATOR: Out on the street, an ISIS suicide bomber has broken through the unit’s defenses.

SOLDIER: The car bomb just exploded! Get out! Get out!

NARRATOR: The attack came from the neighborhood they thought they had cleared.

Lt. ANMAR ALSHAMRY: Guys, calm down. Did it come from over there?

SOLDIER: It came from over there towards us.

NARRATOR: At night, ISIS uses a mosque to broadcast its propaganda, calling for more attacks.

ISIS LOUDSPEAKER: May God show his anger. May God destroy the Shia.

SOLDIER: The shooting is coming from the right, from the school, from those roofs.

WOMAN: I’m so scared! Oh, God protect us!

NARRATOR: Early the next morning, a new wave of civilians rush to flee the city with whatever belongings they can carry.

SOLDIER: Can you help her to cross, the one with the wheelchair?

NARRATOR: The only way out is to walk.

MAN: Let a Humvee escort us. Please, sir, please.

SOLDIER: Please, don’t you understand? I swear, it’s not up to me, mother.

Sgt. NAIF AL-QAIRANI: Why is no one checking them? There could be a suicide bomber here! Take your niqab off. I don’t want people coming towards me with niqabs on!

Lt. ANMAR ALSHAMRY: [subtitles] We have sacrificed a lot. We’ve lost many great men, soldiers, officers, and many casualties. But nobody will stop us. We’ll keep hunting them until we liberate every last bit of Iraq.

[The Iraqi army has declared that eastern Mosul is under its control. It is now preparing a major offensive on western Mosul.]

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