HAMDANIYA, IRAQ – We drove into the town of Hamdaniya some 10 miles outside of Mosul, and it looked like a deserted wreck. The once bustling place of 60,000 was seized and run by ISIS militants for two years. And then won back by Iraqi forces some ten days ago.
The town, like several in the area, was 90% Christian. The vast church in the town lay in ruins. The church steeple destroyed, the nave trashed, the head of the Virgin Mary on one statue lopped off.
And, perhaps most harrowing, the courtyard of the church was transformed from a place of meditation to a makeshift target practice/shooting gallery. The militants had set up a dressing mannequin and shot it up along with the churchyard wall.
All around the town there were signs of the recent epic battle against the terrorists. While most of the residents of the town had fled before the fight, the toll among the liberators of the region was high: 20 Iraqi security forces were killed at the hands of the terrorists.
All of that makes getting rid of ISIS, still holding out in Mosul, a top priority. The town is a staging area now for Iraqi security forces actively engaging the terrorists. It is also a recruitment center and training ground for local militias being formed which will also be sent into the Mosul fray.
The chief of police for the Mosul region, 57-year-old Wathea al-Hamdany, formerly based in the city, is now based in Hamdaniya. He told us he is confident that ISIS will be defeated. “The story of Daesh (as the group is also called) in Iraq is finished,” he said.
He said it would take “two to three months to defeat ISIS in Mosul due to the one million-plus residents still there. Among them, the chief’s mother and three sisters.
All of this makes the Arabic graffiti on one Hamdaniya wall all the more haunting. Scrawled by militant fighters some time ago it declares, “Islamic State will stay forever.” The group is no longer in Hamdaniya. Nearly all here hope it will soon be gone, forever, everywhere.