Last exit Mosul

Last exit Mosul
Feature: Families fleeing IS stronghold risk everything to reach Baghdad on the only road left open due to war in northern Iraq.
3 min read
06 February, 2015
Snipers terrorise residents fleeing Mosul [AFP/Getty]

The taxi transporting Abu Naeem's fleeing family gets two hours out of Mosul before suddenly skidding off the highway. The driver has been shot in the head by sniper fire.

Abu Naeem breaks his hand, his wife her leg and their daughter suffers a large head wound and a broken leg in the crash. Such is the price for trying to flee the so-called Islamic State.

Mosul residents now have almost no way of leaving their city, an IS stronghold since June. Routes to Turkey and Kurdish Iraq are blocked, meaning the road to Baghdad is the only way out. And, as Abu Naeem's taxi driver found to his cost, death haunts that highway.

But for many, risking everything is better than staying in Mosul.

"There are intense airstrikes and the IS group imposes severe laws on residents," Abu Naeem told al-Araby al-Jadeed. "Whoever opposes them would be punished in various ways or executed.

"There is no electricity, water, communications or services in addition to food and medical shortages, a rise in prices and high unemployment. This is what pushed me to flee with my family to Baghdad."

No other way

Abu Naeem recounts his attempt to escape: "When the car came close to Sinjar, which is two hours west of Mosul, the driver was shot by a sniper despite taxi drivers assuring us that the roads were relatively safe.

"We were all taken to hospital in Mosul by a passerby."

Abu Naeem said many others had tried their luck through Sinjar, despite it being the scene of intense fighting between Kurds and the IS.

Mohammad Abd al-Rahman, a taxi driver who works in the area, said: "There are snipers near Sinjar and we used to avoid driving through these areas and passengers knew about this situation before we left Mosul. However we were forced to work because of the harsh living situations. We work day and night to provide for our families.

     "There are snipers near Sinjar and we used to avoid driving through these areas and passengers knew about this situation before we left Mosul.
Mohammad Abd al-Rahman, taxi driver.

"The journey to Baghdad is long and tiring. We spend the night in hotels or in mosques or we sleep in our cars on the way. Customers now pay 300,000 Dinar [$250], 10 times as much as it cost before the IS came."

He said the journey previously took five hours - now it takes up to 36. Easy routes, such as through Tikrit, are no longer available.

Anyone trying to reach Iraq's Kurdish region via Kirkuk faces similar dangers. If they arrive at Kirkuk in one piece, families end up spending days and nights out in the open as they await entry via the Khalid checkpoint outside the city.

Om Zainab was one of those people. "We were forced to spend the night near the Khalid checkpoint despite the cold weather. The next day we were allowed through after many calls to officials and parliamentarians.

"We are surprised that displaced families escaping the tyranny of IS are being treated in this unacceptable way. They leave families in the open to face the cold and other dangers with various excuses including security."

This is an edited translation of the original Arabic.