Rfaila (South of Mosul) – The mood was festive as seven men carried each a bomb into a house on the edge of a village in northern Iraq.
Dozens of residents of Rfaila had flocked to watch the house of their former neighbor Abu Maitham be blown up, filming the scene on phones to the sound of patriotic music blaring from a parked car.
They said Abu Maitham joined ISIS extremists who ruled over hundreds of towns and villages like Rfaila for more than two years, subjecting the local population to a life of violence and privation.
According to Reuters, Abu Maitham had already fled when Iraqi forces drove the extremists from the area in 2016 as they advanced north towards Mosul. In their wake, local people are purging every last vestige of Islamic State’s presence: demolishing militants’ homes and even digging up their graves.
Inside the house in Rfaila, about 45 km south of Mosul, Ayad Jasim arranged the tubs of explosives in a circle on the floor and connected them to a wire leading out to a battery pack.
“It soothes the soul,” said Jasim, as he prepared to detonate the house – his 79th since security forces regained control of the area. “There are still many left,” he added.
Jasim’s motives are both patriotic and personal. His own home in another village nearby was blown up by ISIS, and 27 members of his extended family have disappeared or been killed by the group including a 10-year-old boy.
Jasim has U.S. forces to thank for his skills — they taught him and other select soldiers how to handle explosives after invading Iraq in 2003.
As for the bombs – tubs of C4 weighing about 2 kg each – they were made by ISIS and designed to kill or maim Iraqi security forces, but have been dug up for reuse.
The first blast destroyed only the back of the house, so two more bombs were brought to finish the job. The second explosion ripped down the rest of the building with a flash followed by a shockwave.
Almost everyone in the area has friends and family members who were killed by ISIS, many of them in the security forces. In Rfaila alone, seven officers were executed by the group and several dozen policemen and soldiers were taken away, presumably to their deaths.
Many members of the security forces who fled when ISIS overran the area have now returned, joining government-backed armed group that is seeking revenge.
“This village suffered a lot,” said 26-year-old resident Ammar Ibrahim, who used to be in the security forces, but is now in a tribal armed group. “ISIS blew up our houses so we are blowing up theirs. No trace of them will remain.”