Piles of concrete and metal rubble reach up to the second storey of surrounding buildings in parts of the historic quarter where Islamic State was making its last stand in Mosul.
Soldiers passing through the narrow alleyways and abandoned homes of the Old City scrambled over stone blocks, reinforced steel poles and sheets of aluminium to inspect the military’s latest gains while their comrades fought on nearby.
Charred bodies, mostly covered with blankets, lay amid the rubble. A man’s hand stuck out from under one cover, another’s dusty feet extended from another. Some were clearly militants but others looked like civilians, including a woman and a child.
As the nearly nine-month United States-backed offensive to retake Mosul draws to an end, the Old City has been among the hardest hit areas by the house-to-house fighting backed by air strikes, artillery and heavy machine-guns to uproot the insurgents who have resisted with suicide bomb attacks.
The riverside district, whose mosques, churches and markets date to the Medieval Ages and even earlier, were long neglected before Islamic State took over in 2014.
The insurgents have blown up several landmarks there including the famous Hadba minaret and its adjoining Grand Nuri Mosque, where leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a modern-day “caliphate” three years ago.
Several hundred militants were holed up in the Old City among tens of thousands of civilians when Iraqi forces breached the area last month.
Those numbers have dwindled, with a few dozen militants maintaining resistance as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi travelled to Mosul to declare victory.
Moments before his arrival, half a dozen air strikes pounded the last pocket of the city where the insurgents were gathered.
A soldier returning from the front on Sunday unfurled a black Islamic State flag, holding it upside down and posing for pictures. He boasted it is the last of its kind in Mosul.
In reality, military officials say Islamic State has set up sleeper cells across the city and that they are working to prevent a new wave of guerrilla-style attacks as the group goes to ground. Reuters