Just 30 minutes before we reached his house, Yusuf Ahmed received a phone call with the news his brother and his young family had been killed in an air strike in the next neighbourhood.

Abdulsalam Ahmed, his wife and two girls, had been hiding in the basement when the coalition plane’s load hit.

“The army was just about to reach them, they were hours from freedom,” Mr Ahmed said, his eyes red and his voice shaking.

He had spent the past few weeks worrying he and his relatives would be killed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), not by those trying to rescue them.

More than a dozen residents The Telegraph spoke to in the al-Samood neighbourhood in south-west Mosul had a similar story to tell.

Hashem Abdullah said Isil had been using the house opposite his as a meeting place. Both the Iraqi and the US military’s rules of engagement mean they cannot strike a building until they can account for everyone in it.


“The planes waited until one of the Daesh walked out into the street and then they struck. The fighter was only injured, but 11 members of one family in the house next door were instantly killed.”

The colossal destruction bore out their claims. Samood is a hellish landscape. Every third house seems to either bear the scars of a fierce firefight or is completely levelled. Burned-out husks of cars and the rubble from razed houses block most of the neighbourhood’s streets.

On the backseat of a yellow Kia, which was parked incongruously up against Mr Ahmed’s neighbour’s house, was an unexploded bomb about the size of a watermelon. Children went over to peer at it through the broken window, while one pretended to open the door to set it off before giggling and skipping away.


T
he younger children flinched at the sound of a helicopter whirring overhead, instinctively running into the relative safety of their house. Thousands have fled these districts in recent days as fighting between the army and Isil intensifies, but many decided to stay – preferring to take the risk in their homes than live as refugees in one of the overcrowded camps on the city’s outskirts.

That anyone still lives in the ruins is a measure of how desperate the situation has become.   The Iraqi army says it has carried out 3,780 sorties against Isil in northern Iraq since the offensive to liberate Mosul began, which averages out to almost 30 a day. The US, which is supporting Iraqi forces, has conducted more than double that.

“They dropped leaflets over the city telling us not to worry about the strikes, saying that they were extremely precise and would not hurt the civilians,” says Mr Ahmed, 47. “Now it feels like the coalition is killing more people than Isil.”

He said he thought as many as 300 people had been killed in raids during the battle to liberate Samood and his late brother’s neighbourhood al-Mansour. It was difficult to immediately verify the claim. A recent report by Airwars, a UK-based organisation which monitors international air strikes against Isil, suggested as many as 370 civilian deaths could be attributed to coalition raids in the first week of March alone.

Mr Ahmed’s family had spent the last 10 days moving from house to house on Isil’s orders. He says their home was commandeered last Monday by a Chechen Isil fighter who was using it as a sniper position. The militants had spent weeks preparing for the army’s offensive to retake the western side of the city.

“About a month ago, Daesh came to our house and gave me a drill,” the father-of-four said. “They drew a red square on my wall and gave me an hour to make a hole wide enough for them to climb through. Once I was finished I was ordered to pass it on to my neighbour and tell them to do the same.”

With coalition drones monitoring their every move from the skies, the jihadists have taken to moving between houses rather than out in the open where they can be targeted. Mr Ahmed pointed to the hole in the wall, which if you looked through it at the right angle you could see all the way down to the end of the street.

He said that by the end, 400 houses in the neighbourhood had holes driven right through them. Then, when the battle neared, the jihadists began laying down wrought iron bars over the length of the street in the hope of stalling the advancing Humvees.