I stood over the toilet and thought long and hard. ‘Should I press the button and flush it’?
The house we were in was once an ordinary house. Now it is an empty house in a place no-one has ever heard of until three weeks ago. The town of Bartella is just 12 miles from Mosul. It had a population of 20,000 mostly Christians and is the last town before Mosul itself. The frontline against Daesh.
It had been a Daesh stronghold for two years until the recent bloody fight. One they fought to the death to keep. The most bloody battle so far with casualities on both sides, a battle brought into all our living rooms by a Sky News embedded reporter reporting whilst under attack from sniper bullets and numerous VBIEDS. Suicide trucks packed with explosives.
The Iraqi Special Forces commander sat in the living room surrounded by SF operatives. He’d lost numerous brave colleagues in the battle to retake Bartella. A town his troops were now clearing of land mines in the fields and of Daesh booby trapped IED’s in the town.
I decided I’d better not flush the toilet – just in case. I also resisted the temptation to lift the lid and check in the water tank too – just in case. This is a dangerous place. Sat in the front room I did not know whether the house had been checked thoroughly or whether Iraqi Special Forces had just moved into it that day or that hour as they moved through the town.
The commander told us about the long tunnels. How some of them were connected through graves. How the enemy can be in front of you and then, suddenly behind you. How life means nothing to Daesh. How barbaric they are and how his soldiers must show patience and discipline in moving forward. That without American military equipment it’s a battle they may not have won. He tells
us Daesh lost 144 fighters in the battle of Bartella.
Our drive through the streets was accompanied by Humvee’s and Peshmerga special forces. Brutal foes for decades, Arab and Kurds now standing alongside each other. We passed beautiful homes long since abandoned. Their owners displaced into camps or murdered? Families separated. Did they get out in time? Did they suffer? Every now and again a single house is nothing but a pile of rubble and twisted metal, household items scattered amongst the debris.
The commander also tells us that without Australian and US GPS airstrikes such as at Bartella, Daesh would have been able to fight on far more effectively. Still able to perpetrate their deprived barbarity. Power tools to torture people, mass graves, summary executions.
He explains passionately like many previously that Daesh is an Iraqi created problem, not a western created problem. The west must stop making that argument. My colleague a former ‘Stop the War’ supporter feels sick. Seeing the raped and pillaged women and children in the camps, seeing the desecration and the barbarity has changed their mind. It’s all too much.
As we leave Bartella we see a remote dry plain of just a few buildings which sprawls out into our distance. A few scattered Daesh hideouts or bomb making factories visibly flattened from the air by coalition forces. This is not an assault on hospitals or humanity but a fight for human rights and decency.
This article originally appeared in the Lancashire Telegraph. Graham Jones MP was a member of the APPG delegation which visited Kurdistan and Mosul in early November 2016.