MOSUL — Rajab Younes Rajab never thought he’d return here to help rebuild his family home that was destroyed in the war.
During the battle to recapture Mosul from ISIS in 2017, the western part of the city, where Rajab lives, was decimated. Thousands of people died in the fighting. Homes and businesses were destroyed, and Rajab’s home was no different.
“I saw people dying in front of me and I couldn't help them,” the 23-year-old told VICE News as he navigated the rubble. “We were living under airstrikes. They bombarded it until it was destroyed.”
Rajab’s still haunted by what he witnessed. He rarely sleeps and still mourns the friends he lost in the battle. “I used to see my friends more than I saw my family,” he said.
Nearly 18 months after the liberation of Mosul, the city's residents are struggling to rebuild their homes and lives, hindered by a lack of financial support from the Iraq government and the lingering threat from a small but potent ISIS presence.
“One of the reasons is the number of tragedies I've seen here,” he said. “Perhaps no one’s ever witnessed what I did. As soon as I leave the house, I thought I was going to die. I was targeted by a sniper more than six times. He almost killed me the last time.”
Rajab shares the anger of many residents in Mosul’s Old City — a growing annoyance at the slow pace of reconstruction in the city.
“Nothing has changed here, two years after the liberation. When they published Iraq's draft 2019 budget, Mosul got 1 percent,” Rajab said. His father had to use the family's savings to complete the reconstruction of their home.
The city’s slow rebuild has been exacerbated by a string of recent deadly attacks. Four teenagers were killed on their way to school two weeks ago, and a car bomb outside a popular restaurant in the city a month ago, killed three. But the authorities are keen to downplay ISIS’ presence, blaming political elements for the recent violence.
For the older generation like his father, returning home remains the priority, regardless of the current security situation. “Some incidents happen here and there but the state is in control. I'm not worried at all,” Younes said.
Rajab is less optimistic. He believes if things don’t improve soon, the city’s youth could be lured back into ISIS’ grasp.
“It's not safe at all. I am worried about my own life. I'm worried about my family when even now, ISIS members and leaders are still here. I was surprised by the recent explosions. It means there are sleeper cells. The government should stop them and stop them from expanding again.”
This segment originally aired December 4, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.