SOLDIER: There’s an ISIS fighter in this house. They’re just the other side of the wall
SOLDIER: He’s in there in that house. Be careful. Don’t shoot. Watch that house.
Staff Sergeant HUSSEIN AL-SALEM, Sniper: Shh, don’t make any noise. No, no. Don’t move the curtain. They could see.
Wait, wait! I got him.
SOLDIER: Bring him here. Help him to breathe.
Staff Sergeant JAMAL AL-ZAIN: Our friendship was so strong. Where there’s a heartbeat, there’s hope. But everyone has a destiny. It’s in God’s hands.
[Mosul, October 2016]
NEWSCASTER: Thirteen years after the U.S. military invasion, the country still faces profound challenges, none more dire than the threat posed by the Islamic State.
[Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, has been controlled by ISIS for more than two years.]
NEWSCASTER: The capture of Mosul in June 2014 shocked the world and became a symbol of the emerging threat of the so-called Islamic State group.
NEWSCASTER: There are over a million civilians in Mosul. ISIS is not letting them leave and using them as human shields. And they’re describing a life of torture under the Islamic state’s brutal rule.
[The Iraqi Special Forces are leading the offensive to retake Mosul.]
NEWSCASTER: The prime minister has announced just moments ago the offensive to take back Mosul is now under way.
NEWSCASTER: ISIS recognizes that there is a big battle ahead for Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.
NEWSCASTER: This is the place where IS proclaimed its caliphate. Here it was born and here Iraqi Forces say it will die.
[This is the story of one Special Forces squad, 10 ten soldiers on the front line of the war against ISIS.]
SOLDIER: Stay close together.
SOLDIERS RADIO: Be careful. There are car bombs.
SOLDIER: Hurry up.
1t Lieutenant ANMAR AL-SHAMRY, Squad Leader: Fighting is not just about holding a gun and shooting. It’s mental warfare. ISIS are nothing but rats. No more, no less.
SOLDIERS RADIO: Go house to house.
JAMAL: We’ve been friends from the start. If one of us is in trouble, we go to their rescue. Our friendship is unbreakable.
SOLDIER: Hussein, come quickly!
HUSSEIN: I’m a sniper. For the ISIS guys I kill, I feel very happy I killed them. It’s fun. It’s not like a war, but a wedding party.
SOLDIER: Move in pairs, quickly.
Sergeant AMJAD AL-RAKABI: We will recapture Mosul and drive ISIS out of Iraq. Peace and security will return to our beloved country.
SOLDIER: Stay and secure the road.
[Day 12, East Mosul]
SOLDIER: Watch out.
SOLDIER: Get inside.
ANMAR: There are some people who supported ISIS, but they won’t admit it. They’ll escape along with the families. It makes it so difficult for us. If the area was empty of civilians, this would have been over a long time ago.
[The Iraqi army has a history of human rights abuses in Mosul. Some civilians fear the army almost as much as they fear ISIS.]
SOLDIER: Where’s ISIS?
SOLDIER: Open the door. We are the Iraqi army. Come on.
SOLDIER: Don’t be frightened.
WOMAN: Protect us! Feel free in this house. It’s yours. Oh, God. My daughter’s been so scared all morning. Please protect us
ANMAR: [On leave in Baghdad] My father was an officer in the Iraqi army. He was hit by a terrorist attack. They’d planted a bomb under his car, near our house. I was an engineering student at the time. A fire was lit inside me to destroy these terrorist groups. I wanted to take my father’s revenge, to defend my country, to continue my father’s path.
ISIS RADIO: Enemies of Allah, if you don’t repent, we will come with men who love death as much as you love life.
[In Mosul, the army faces daily suicide attacks. Boys as young as 14 broadcast their final words on ISIS radio.]
ISIS RADIO: There are only a few hours left in this life for Abu Amara. Have you got anything to say to the people listening to you right now?
BOY: My dream is to go to heaven to be with the Prophet Muhammed and that God will accept me and make jihad.
ISIS RADIO: He smiled as we filmed him, asking “Will I see this video when I’m in heaven?”
HUSSEIN: Growing up, my dream was to become a soccer player. After ISIS invaded Mosul, I left everything to fight for my family, homeland and holy sites.
If someone kills women and children, what should we do? ISIS are infidels with no mercy. They have no values or principles. Fighting in Mosul was my dream come true.
[After four months of fighting, the Army has retaken eastern Mosul. An estimated 2,000 ISIS fighters are left in the west of the city.]
SOLDIER: Anmar, shall we push forward?
ANMAR: See if he’s crossed over.
[Day 122, West Mosul]
ANMAR: I was leading my men. We’d secured an area and had one street left. We were forced to advance in the middle of the street
SOLDIER: Quickly, run, run! Help, we need a vehicle!
SOLDIER: Abbas has been injured. We need a vehicle to take him.
[An ISIS sniper has shot one of the squad. In the chaos, Anmar is separated from his men.]
SOLDIERS RADIO: Anmar! Come in, Anmar. Give me your coordinates.
ANMAR: The rest of them found an open house. They went in and took Abbas with them.
SOLDIER: No, no, careful by the door! Where’s the Humvee? He’s going to die! He’ll die.
SOLDIER: We need something to stop the bleeding. Quick. He’ll die.
SOLDIER: Come on Hussein, don’t stand up! There’s a sniper.
SOLDIER: Throw him into the car, it doesn’t matter how. Just get him in there. [expletive] sake, Abbas, come on! Hold him this side. Hussein, hold him.
SOLDIER: My leg!
HUSSEIN: If the ISIS sniper had shot Anmar, then our whole squad would’ve been defeated. He’s not just an officer to us. He’s more like a brother, an older brother. Thank God we were lucky.
ANMAR: [telephone call] Hi, babe. Good morning, my darling, love of my life, my precious woman. Come on baby, get up. You have to go to work. Your body’s still aching? Shall I leave you to sleep for half an hour? That’s OK, baby. I love you so much. ‘Bye.
SOLDIER: Let’s eat breakfast downstairs. I’ve made some tea. Hey, Jamal, it’s not ready yet.
SOLDIER: Feeling fresh, Amjad?
JAMAL: In the battlefield, you’re together all day every day. We do everything together. We sleep, we eat together. So of course, you become closer.
SOLDIER: Hussein, Hussein!
SOLDIER: Get back! There. There.
JAMAL: We trust each other. The three of us trust each other wherever we are.
HUSSEIN: The bullets. The bullets. Get down. Wait. Don’t rush. Jamal, be patient
JAMAL: I think I saw someone’s head.
HUSSEIN: Wait for him. He’ll come up.
AMJAD: Who are you shooting at?
SOLDIER: Don’t shoot at nothing. Wait for someone to come up. Shoot to kill, shoot to kill.
SOLDIER: Jamal, open fire on that building.
HUSSEIN: Yes! Keep going! Yeah, yeah, that’s right. That’s enough. Enough.
SOLDIER: OK, get down now.
HUSSEIN: I spend most of my time with Amjad and Jamal. Most of the time, we don’t feel stressed or afraid. We’re always in a good mood, laughing.
AMJAD: Six! Six ISIS have been killed! I swear we’ve killed six ISIS fighters.
SOLDIER: We cut them into slices. Put some music on.
SOLDIER: Did you film it, Amjad?
AMJAD: Are you joking? Of course!
Wow, Hussein! I swear, he’s the man. You can see the video I made.
JAMAL: Man, I love that machine gun!
It was a jolly day. We were really happy. Amjad took his mobile and said, “Let me film so we can remember it.” To be honest, this clip makes me sad. He was my friend.
SOLDIER: Old lady, please go.
ANMAR: These people have suffered a lot under ISIS. So when you see them, of course you feel for them.
SOLDIER: Where are your family?
MAN: They don’t know where I am.
SOLDIER: Stay still. I told you not to move.
[Five months into the battle, progress has slowed. The Special Forces are taking daily casualties.]
SOLDIERS RADIO: OK, the squads are going to the coordinates you gave me.
SOLDIER: You go in that way.
SOLDIER: Do you want me to check the school? OK, come. Let’s go.
WOMAN: We’ve been here for four months.
SOLDIER: Come on, my love. Let’s go. To the first room. Get in there. Don’t worry.
ANMAR: When we got to the school, we found lots of families. We thought that ISIS were inside, hiding among them.
SOLDIERS RADIO:: What can you see?
SOLDIER: There’s someone running.
MORTADA: It looks like someone just ran from there, behind the white house.
AMJAD: I swear they’re ISIS. He got away. Another one, Hussein.
JAMAL: He popped out right in front of us, and then he hid.
ANMAR: What’s your name?
ANMAR: How long have you been in this school?
BOY: This one? Three days.
ANMAR: Among the people here, who’s ISIS?
BOY: Do you want me to tell you the truth, uncle?
BOY: Well, then nobody here is ISIS.
ANMAR: None of those sitting inside?
BOY: No, nobody I said.
ANMAR: I’ll fry you if one of them is ISIS.
ANMAR: I know there is one. I just want to test you.
BOY: So if you know him, go get him and ask him.
SOLDIER: We know there’s one of them here. We know him.
ANMAR: Tell us about him before you get hurt. Trust me, I’ll kill you here.
BOY: Well, you might know him, but I don’t. All the people I know are my relatives.
ANMAR: We’d taken control of the school.
OK, go, go.
I got a call saying my team had seen a booby-trapped car, and the explosive expert said that he could defuse it, but he needed a soldier to cover him.
SOLDIER: What? What happened?
SOLDIER: It exploded on them.
AMAR: What’s happened to Noori?
SOLDIERS RADIO: Sir, Noori’s been killed. Nobody could stop it.
[The dead soldier, Noori, is the first of Anmar’s men to be killed in Mosul.]
SOLDIER: OK, calm down.
AMJAD: [weeping] Why? Why did he die? He’s the one who made us happy. Oh, my God!
HUSSEIN: Our group was devastated. I tried to calm them down. I said, “Boys, we’re at war and ISIS are only meters away from us.” The person who was hurt the most was Amjad. They were really close.
AMJAD: I can’t even describe Noori. He was my brother. I lost him. He was a hero, a hero of our battalion. We are all on the same path. He made the ultimate sacrifice.
ANMAR: As an officer, I am responsible for my soldiers. Every soldier has a mother, a father, a wife, children. All these lives are my responsibility.
AMJAD: What’s happening?
JOHNNY: I don’t know. Where’s Jamal?
SOLDIER: Hurry! Go!
SOLDIERS RADIO: Be careful. There are car bombs.
SOLDIER: Sir, I saw it go this way, towards the 2nd Battalion!
SOLDIER: There, there. Be careful, it may come that way. Come inside quickly, Olivier!
ANMAR: You keep hearing the sounds. If a car drives past quickly, you think it’s a car bomb or a rocket being fired. When I return home, I try to block out the war. But it changes you.
SOLDIER: It’s been hit. The tank got hit.
ANMAR: Mentally, it is very difficult. We’ve had many casualties during the battle. We were upset. You have to protect your soldiers, no matter what.
SOLDIER: Where’s Jamal?
SOLDIER: Get to that house there. Move your asses! Quick, that way!
WOMAN: We’ve been waiting for you for three days.
SOLDIER: Leave, quickly. Put your clothes on and go.
SOLDIER: Look up there.
SOLDIERS RADIO: The house next you is open, right? The shooting is coming from there.
ANMAR: Is the door open? We need someone to check the road before we cross.
[The soldiers decide to force a civilian to check for ISIS snipers.]
MORTADA: Don’t lie. I saw them.
MAN: You saw them? I swear to you I’ve not seen them.
MORTADA: If you lie, I’ll slap you in the face.
SOLDIER: Hey, come over here.
SOLDIER: Come on, get back.
MAN: There’s nothing.
SOLDIER: Look from this side.
MAN: There’s nothing. Look, I have a family, kids.
SOLDIER: Don’t I have a family?
MAN: No, no. Sorry, sorry.
SOLDIER: Who are the guys in this house?
MAN: There are families in there.
SOLDIER: OK, we’ll cross there. If one bullet comes towards us, I’ll empty my gun in your head.
MAN: Please don’t hold me responsible. Please.
SOLDIER: Shh. Go ahead.
HUSSEIN: ISIS is throwing everything at us, car bombs, drones with bombs, women and children strapped with bombs. I keep a record of all the ISIS fighters I’ve killed. When I show the photos to my mom or brothers, they’re proud. I killed 43, maybe 45. I hope that my actions please God.
[By June 2017, ISIS have been driven out of three quarters of Mosul. Half the men in Anmar’s squad have been injured or killed.]
SOLDIER: Get changed and be ready.
JAMAL: We woke up in the morning. I brought two glasses of tea and we drank them together. Amjad was happy because his wife was newly pregnant. It was at quarter to nine when it happened. We were in a firefight against ISIS. We were fighting for a quarter of an hour or less. Amjad was with me. He was shooting to cover me, to protect me.
I was shot and fell on the floor. Amjad wanted to help me. He saw me get shot. He ran to help me. I told him not to come because they were still firing at us. But when your friend falls in front of you─ He couldn’t stop himself. He was shot next to his heart. If you can feel a heartbeat, there’s hope. But I couldn’t feel a heartbeat, and he wasn’t breathing, either. So that was when I knew he was dead.
HUSSEIN: The day he died was my wedding day. I didn’t know what to do. I was on leave. I just wanted to be with them. If I was there, I wouldn’t have let it happen.
I’ll take revenge for Amjad not just with one but five ISIS fighters.
[On July 9, 2017, the Iraqi prime minister finally declared victory in Mosul. The battle took 266 days.]
SOLDIER: In the hard times, we don’t wear shields. Tomorrow, history will mention our names. Your name will be carved in the trenches. We will hold the land high.
SOLDIERS: We will hold the land high.
[At least 20,000 civilians were killed or injured in the battle for Mosul.]
[For Anmar and his men, the fight against ISIS in Iraq continues.]
JAMAL: I have these dreams. My family tells me that I shout, “ISIS, ISIS! Shoot him.” When everyone is sleeping and I’m awake, I break down and cry.
People are like leaves on a tree. When they dry out, they fall to the ground. Everyone has their own destiny. We all have our day.