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Ali Bashar Ali, 8, lives with his family in his grandfather’s house in the Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood of western Mosul, where Iraqi forces are battling Islamic State militants for control of the city. While fleeing their home, Ali was hit in the foot by a stray bullet. On April 1, 2017, he answered a few questions about his recent days in this war zone. His most recent meal? “Tomato soup and rice. During the battle [the liberation of his neighborhood] we only ate a few meals in three days.” How does he fall asleep at night? “We don’t sleep well. I sleep a little and then wake up, until morning.” His favorite toy? “A boat.” What does he want to be when he grows up? “A doctor.”
Ali Bashar Ali, 8, lives with his family in his grandfather’s house in the Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood of western Mosul, where Iraqi forces are battling Islamic State militants for control of the city. While fleeing their home, Ali was hit in the foot by a stray bullet. On April 1, 2017, he answered a few questions about his recent days in this war zone. His most recent meal? “Tomato soup and rice. During the battle [the liberation of his neighborhood] we only ate a few meals in three days.” How does he fall asleep at night? “We don’t sleep well. I sleep a little and then wake up, until morning.” His favorite toy? “A boat.” What does he want to be when he grows up? “A doctor.”Emanuele Satolli for TIME
Ali Bashar Ali, 8, lives with his family in his grandfather’s house in the Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood of western Mosul, where Iraqi forces are battling Islamic State militants for control of the city. While fleeing their home, Ali was hit in the foot by a stray bullet. On April 1, 2017, he answered a few questions about his recent days in this war zone. His most recent meal? “Tomato soup and rice. During the battle [the liberation of his neighborhood] we only ate a few meals in three days.” How does he fall asleep at night? “We don’t sleep well. I sleep a little and then wake up, until morning.” His favorite toy? “A boat.” What does he want to be when he grows up? “A doctor.”
Ayman Mohamed Ahmed lives in the Hamam al-Alil displacement camp south of Mosul. On April 6, 2017, he answered a few questions about his recent days in this war zone. His most recent meal? Rice and beans. What does he think about at night? "I hope ISIS members do not come and blow themselves up in our house." His favorite toy? He doesn't have toys in the camp, but back at home it was a car. What does he want to be when he grows up? A doctor, because that's "the best" and he wants to help people.
Farah el-Kelo, nine years old, lives with her extended family of dozens of people in a large house in the neighborhood of Mosul al-Jadida. After fleeing the fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants, some of the family moved in together. On April 1, she answered a few questions about her recent days in this war zone. Her most recent meal? “Yogurt, tahini and tea.” How does she fall asleep at night? “I sleep okay, but I used to sleep better before [the battle].” Her favorite toy? “A kitchen with pots and pans.” And what does she want to be when she’s older? “A doctor.”
Rahaf, 12, lives in the Hamam al-Alil displacement camp south of Mosul. On April 6, 2017, she answered a few questions about her recent days in this war zone. Her most recent meal? Soup. How does she fall asleep at night? “What can I do?” What does she want to be when she grows up? A doctor, because her mother is sick.
Hassan Falah Hamid, 10, lives in the Hamam al-Alil displacement camp south of Mosul. On April 6, 2017, he answered a few questions about his recent days in this war zone. His most recent meal? Fava beans. What does he think about at night? He was afraid of ISIS and the shelling. His favorite toy? He doesn't have toys in the camp, but back at home it was a bicycle. What does he want to be when he grows up? A teacher.
Safiya Qais, 9, lives with her family in a section of eastern Mosul that was liberated from ISIS in January. During the offensive, her house was overrun with Islamic State militants. Her family was forced to flee for several weeks, living in an empty house that was further from the clashes. The home’s exterior is riddled with bullet holes. On April 2, 2017, she answered a few questions about her recent days in this war zone. Her most recent meal? Eggs. How does she fall asleep at night? She sleeps well now; she just closes her eyes and tries to sleep. Before, “I was afraid of the planes bombing.” What does she want to be when she grows up? A teacher.
Ali Bashar Ali, 8, lives with his family in his grandfather’s house in the Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood of western Mosul
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Emanuele Satolli for TIME
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The Children of Mosul

Apr 13, 2017

A war zone is no place for children, but Mosul is full of them. During a recent assignment around the Iraqi city, Italian photographer Emanuele Satolli, with Jared Malsin, TIME’s Middle East Bureau Chief, turned his lens on how the battle and its aftermath were affecting the youth. They met boys and girls in the eastern section, which was liberated by Iraqi forces in January; the western section, part of which is still held by the Islamic State; and at a displacement camp southwest of Mosul.

There was a noticeable difference in the demeanor of the children depending on where the pair met them. “The kids from the east were more relaxed,” Satolli said. “On the western side, there was a presence next to them. We met kids who two, three days before were in ISIS territory. The sounds, the hiding at home, it was a traumatic experience for them,” he added. At the camp, “they were in this tent that wasn’t their house, away from the street where they normally used to play. It was like they were suspended in time.”

With each children they met, Satolli and Malsin asked them a few questions. What was your most recent meal? Some said rice, others yogurt or eggs. What is your favorite toy? A soccer ball, a kitchen set with plates and tea cups and a kettle, even toy guns. What do you want to be when you grow up? A doctor. A teacher.

“It was an amazing experience because with simple questions, we got very close to the kids,” Satolli said. “It was an excuse to see another side of the war in Mosul.”

Asked which of the encounters stuck out most to him, Satolli said eight-year-old Ali Bashar Ali. The boy lived with his family in his grandfather’s house in the Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood. While fleeing his home, Ali was hit in the foot by a stray bullet. “He was very direct,” Satolli recalled of their meeting on April 1. “He was very spontaneous.” Ali placed himself on the chair and let his injured foot dangle.

A few days later, Satolli stopped in front of the house where he met Ali. He got out and showed him and his father TIME’s Instagram post with Ali’s portrait. “He was happy but he didn’t say anything,” Satolli said of the boy. “He just smiled.”

Emanuele Satolli is an Italian photographer based in Istanbul. Follow him on Instagram @emanuelesatolli.

Andrew Katz, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s Senior Multimedia Editor. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

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