BARTELLA: Black army Humvees patrol the potholed streets of Bartella where Daesh fighters set homes on fire, while rows of shops and restaurants have been flattened during fighting.
Tired of living with his seven-member family in a rented house in nearby Arbil, Said Shaba and other residents came to check on their houses for the first time since fleeing Bartella in 2014 when Daesh seized Mosul and much of Iraq’s north.
“They destroyed and stole everything. They even took away our safe,” the 59-year-old said, pointing to a wardrobe in his bedroom where a safe containing $1,400 in local currency and dollars once stood.
When rumours of a Daesh offensive in August 2014 spread, Shaba drove his family to the safety of Arbil one morning, planning to return to take cash and documents. But he never made it back as the militants were already in control of Bartella by the afternoon.
His petrol storage facility, the family’s main source of income, a few blocks from his modest house, was destroyed during fighting, he said.
A CD containing pictures of their Shaba’s daughter’s wedding also made it through the occupation.
“They have left nothing intact including windows, doors and walls,” said Milano Yousuf, the daughter.
“This CD is more important to me than all the furniture. It is irreplaceable.”
Dozens of army vehicles with mounted guns were parked on an unpaved square in the town.
The army only lets in civilians selectively to inspect their houses and take some belongings, officers say. Still, many hope they can stay.
Hundreds were queuing at a checkpoint, where officers sent many back for lack of paperwork.
Shaba, the entrepreneur, said he got his army permit to go home only through “wasta,” or personal connections.
“We need to make sure the places are safe, that Daesh left no bombs,” said an Iraqi officer.
Apart from Christians, there were also many Shiites, trying to head home.
“We are trying to see our house for the first time since we fled in August 2014,” said 28-year-old Ahmed Ali, who escaped with his 17-member family from their Bartella home when the militants approached. His cousin was killed by the militants, he said.
“Life has become very difficult, paying rents in Arbil with very little work,” he said, standing with a veiled relative near the checkpoint where soldiers told civilians without permits go back.