Children from Mosul celebrate the city's liberation and recount years of ISIS tyranny

ISIS’ hold on Mosul has been completely broken. The militants have lost all their holdings in the city, with only a handful of them scattered around the city. On Monday evening, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has formally announced Mosul as ISIS-free. For all intents and purposes, the war for the city has come to an end.

What comes next for many Moslawis is reconstruction and readjustment to life without ISIS, after spending some three years under the group’s rule. One of the most-impacted demographics are the children of Mosul. Many of them of spent their formative years under the group’s rule and were a preferential target for the Cubs of the Caliphate, ISIS’ sub-unit of child soldiers. As such, there is a fear that the group’s ideology could survive among them.

For now, however, such fears appears to be unfounded. Many Moslawi children who have been interviewed following the liberation of the city share the jubilation at the militants being expelled. The children here say that the Hisba, ISIS’ “morality police”, would arrest and punish people “everything”. The children here say that they were banned from having “modern” haircuts and those who could grow beards could not shave them. Meanwhile, men were forced to wear a traditional robe-like garment (dishdasha) while women were fully veiled. Sporting events, internet access and video games were also severely curtailed, cutting many children off their favoured hobbies.

With the militants gone, many of these children have quickly embraced the things that were banned under the militant rule. To them, Mosul today feels like a different city than Mosul three years ago.

Not every child has escaped life under militants unscathed. Many children, particularly belonging to Yazidi and Christian minorities have been forcefully inducted to the Cubs of the Caliphate and much of their families are dead or displaced. For them, life after ISIS needs more than modern haircuts and access to video games.

Still, amidst all the destruction that Iraq and Syria have suffered, the optimism expressed by the children of Mosul offers a glimmer of hope for the future.