For three years, Lena Kandes and her family lived under isis rule in Mosul. Sequestered in her home after being forced to abandon her university studies, she created an online alias—which she asked me to use—so she could connect with the outside world but not be traceable by the Islamic State’s goons. “We were prisoners there,” she told me earlier this year in Kurdistan, where her family had fled. “We got close to losing our minds.” Through a window, she watched a crowd stone to death a woman suspected of adultery. Kandes felt especially vulnerable because her father had been a contractor for the U.S. military. They had hosted U.S. Army officers at their home.
On Sunday, Mosul was finally liberated. By then, almost nine hundred thousand people had fled the northern metropolis on the Tigris River, according to the United Nations. A total of 4.2 million Iraqis are displaced across the country, most dependent on varying forms of aid to survive.
Mosulis are fiercely proud of their city, which has long had an identity independent of Baghdad, some two hundred and fifty miles to the south. Many of those I interviewed after isis seized control of Mosul, in 2014, initially ached to return to a once-flourishing commercial center with a famous university and a legendary Old City. But the mood has shifted after three years of polarizing isisoccupation, epic bloodshed, deepening sectarian tensions, and miles of utter destruction. Mosul is unlikely to be put back together—socially, politically, or physically—anytime soon.