Schools scrub signs of ISIS rule in battle-scarred Mosul

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Students in eastern Mosul, a city in northern Iraq, got to return to school this week. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Students in eastern Mosul, a city in northern Iraq, got to return to school this week. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Soccer balls are bouncing again and schools are reopening their doors in eastern Mosul, a city in Iraq where government troops recently wrest back control from Islamic State militants.

The estimated 180,000 Iraqis who fled when the battle to retake the city began in October are cautiously starting to return, said UNICEF Iraq representative Peter Hawkins from his office in Baghdad this week.

An estimated 20,000 Iraqis have come back so far, shuttled by government buses from camps outside the city. Their departure frees up space in the camps for the anticipated influx of Iraqis when the military operation to retake the western part of Mosul begins at some point, he said.

“It’s amazing how resilient the people are given all that they’ve been through,” said Hawkins, who visited Mosul last week. “The most amazing part was seeing women walking around the streets and children playing games,” like soccer.

Residents are seeing what is left of their homes. Water pipelines, destroyed during the fighting, still need repairs. In the meantime, more than 300,000 gallons of water are trucked in every day, said Hawkins.

The 30 schools that reopened needed to be checked and re-checked for unexploded devices left there by the militants. Textbooks, like the math book pictured below, were replaced with non-violent ones.

Children got much-delayed vaccinations against measles and polio, which they hadn’t received during the two years that the Islamic State militants were in charge. The World Health Organization and its partner organizations set up a field hospital to treat gunshot and mine wounds. Hawkins said UNICEF also is working to provide specialized care for girls who suffered sexual and other abuse at the hands of the militants.

“The key now is to help them resume their normal way of life and break that cycle of violence and grievance very common in that part of the world,” he said.

The city still has its dangers, such as the possibility of a counterattack by militants in the western part of the city, he added, but the children know when they go to school, they are in a safe place.

A mother adjusts her daughter's hat before she enters a classroom on Jan. 23. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

A mother adjusts her daughter’s hat before she enters a classroom on Jan. 23. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

For two years, under the Islamic State regime, only boys were allowed to attend school in Mosul. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

For two years, under the Islamic State regime, only boys were allowed to attend school in Mosul. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

About 30 schools opened in eastern Mosul after Iraqi forces took back control from the Islamic State group. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

About 30 schools opened in eastern Mosul after Iraqi forces took back control from the Islamic State group. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Children played soccer in Mosul as the city gradually returned to normal. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Children played soccer in Mosul as the city gradually returned to normal. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Fresh graves are seen on a school compound in Mosul after Iraqi troops retook the city from the Islamic State group. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Fresh graves are seen on a school compound in Mosul after Iraqi troops retook the city from the Islamic State group. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

A math book under the Islamic State contains a math problem that asks: "You have a store of 42 bullets and in front of you are 7 apostates and unbelievers. The question is how many shots from your sniper rifle you have for each of them." Image courtesy of PBS NewsHour special correspondent Marcia Biggs

A math book under the Islamic State contains a math problem that asks: “You have a store of 42 bullets and in front of you are 7 apostates and unbelievers. The question is how many shots from your sniper rifle you have for each of them.” Image courtesy of PBS NewsHour special correspondent Marcia Biggs

Another page of the text book contains math problems that use jihadi soldiers and landmines in the questions. Image courtesy of PBS NewsHour special correspondent Marcia Biggs

Another page of the text book contains math problems that use jihadi soldiers and landmines in the questions. Image courtesy of PBS NewsHour special correspondent Marcia Biggs

About 16,000 children in eastern Mosul were able to return to classes this week. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

About 16,000 children in eastern Mosul were able to return to classes this week. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Students leave after registering for classes and getting new school bags in Mosul, Iraq on Jan. 23. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Students leave after registering for classes and getting new school bags in Mosul, Iraq on Jan. 23. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

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