Meet The Boy Who Risked His Life to Save His Family During the Battle for Mosul

Ali risked his young life to help his family survive the battle for Mosul

They kept waiting for the shooting to stop, but it just went on and on, for hours.

“Actually, we waited days for the fighting to stop,” Rajab emphasized.

Rajab is an Iraqi man we met on a recent food delivery to Mosul. Brown eyes, thick mustache, and grease smears from working on their generator all over his arms and parts of his face—he held out a forearm for me to shake, the customary way of saying, “My hands are too dirty to shake,” while still offering something.

Rajab invited us inside his partially destroyed home in Mosul. He wanted to make sure we understood just how bad things were during ISIS and especially during the fighting.

“My father is elderly. My wife and daughters were hungry. But we could not go out from the basement. Bullets were flying through our home, through the walls. And mortars were everywhere.”

But the family needed food, and there was no telling when the battle might end in their neighborhood.

“That’s when my son, Ali, offered to crawl through the house and bring back food.”

Rajab grabbed Ali’s by the head and kissed it furiously. Ali squirmed, embarrassed, and gave a shy smile.

“Come, look here. See this hole? We broke that so Ali could climb through to the food.”

As if on cue, Ali began climbing through the hole again to show us how.

“We would not have survived if he hadn’t brought us food,” his father said proudly.

The whole family was so skinny, it’s clear they were on the brink. But on the day we visited, Rajab’s whole house is alive. Daughters scrubbing floors, sons fixing a broken generator, and grandpa helping move furniture—this is resurrection.

Rajab is a serious guy, and the no-nonsense tour of his home shows it—little emotion and zero sentimentality as he pointed to bullet holes, mortar pock-marks, and all the work ahead.

“It was built in the 80s, back when they made houses to last,” he said proudly. He pointed a greased-black hand up to the roof: “That hole is from a mortar. That part of the house was added on more recently. It’s weaker.”

He points and gives gruff responses to our questions, but he is clearly proud of his family and home. They stayed together. They held out and survived—and they’re surviving together, still.

He brought us back outside as water splashes down around our heads—Rajab’s wife and daughters were rinsing the floors above, then squeegeeing the remainder over the balcony. “Watch your head, today is cleaning day.” Rajab’s first hint of a smile.

His world is coming back to life.

Rajab ushered us back out to the front of his home, where our team was unloading food for his entire neighborhood. On our way out, I pointed to a set of keys hanging from a hook.

“Oh, that’s where we keep keys or things we don’t want to lose…” Rajab’s face then split into a huge grin: “or I hang a child up there if they’ve misbehaved—BAHAHA!”

Ali laughed, and Rajab’s wife smiled and shook her head.


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About Matthew Willingham

Matt Willingham is Preemptive Love's Senior Field Editor and writes primarily on politics, history, general updates and visual peacemaking through photography and film.

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Meet The Boy Who Risked His Life to Save His Family During the Battle for Mosul
Meet The Boy Who Risked His Life to Save His Family During the Battle for Mosul
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