Hammam Al-Alil (Iraq), London- After the decline of ISIS’ control in Mosul, the Iraqi city is reviving. A Reuters report said that citizens resumed their visits to Hammam Al-Alil, a town south of Mosul once famous throughout Iraq for its healing hot waters and its spa.
This oasis of leisure now coexists with camps housing more than 30,000 of the people displaced in the region by the campaign to dislodge ISIS from Mosul, its last major stronghold in Iraq.
After showering with water from a natural spring, the retired soldier Ali Qader, 47, says that he comes to Hammam Al-Alil three times a week where the water is refreshing and good for the skin.
Residents have been flocking back since ISIS was kicked out of the town in early November, ending the days when bathers had to wear a tunic covering them from knee to navel as part of the Islamic sharia’ regulations.
Before diving into a pool, Wael Abdullah, 12, says if you had only swimwear, ISIS’ members would whip you.
He added that the “hisbah” – referring to the religious police- came checking that everyone had the right dress, from men’s beards to women’s veils.
Across the street is an indoor pool where locals and soldiers taking a day off from the front get a massage session.
The spa used to be magnet for wellness tourists and rheumatism patients but had passed its heyday even before the militants arrived in 2014.
Latif Mohammed, who was hired to help run the spa for 10,000 Iraqi dinars ($8.58) a day, said they used to have visitors from Baghdad, the south and even the Gulf, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The spa was built in the eighties, but needs refurbishing, he added. The elegant hotels at the spa are now shuttered or bombed out because militants used to live there.
On Monday, a federal police officer revealed that the spa opened only at noon due to rumors of an ISIS attack.
Restoring the baths is probably the last priority for officials who, just 2 km away, also have to run one of the biggest camps for people fleeing the battle of Mosul. Every five minutes or so, a bus pulls into Hammam al-Alil with more new arrivals. Up to 5,000 people come every day from the district or across the frontlines around Mosul, around 30 km to the north.
The United Nations said the total number of displaced since the offensive began in October had exceeded 300,000 and camps for them are being expanded to take in even more people expected to flee the fighting in and around Mosul’s populated old city.
With tents packed sometimes with two families in one some spend their first night in a mass tent or outside. Many are in state of shock.
Omar Abdullah, 20, who came with 20 family members and friends, said they had left at 1 a.m. to avoid ISIS snipers walking to the army checkpoint and arrived there in the evening. They didn’t get a place in Hammam al-Alil so they went to a mosque where the preacher took them to his apartment. Now they will try another camp, he added.
While there’s plenty of hot water at the spa, women in the tent city rise early to queue for the water truck that comes once a day.
Latif Mohammed said some 200 visitors come to the spa every day. There are also displaced people but many can’t afford the 1,000 dinars entrance fee.