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THE IRAQI SERIES, DAY 12 & 13

BAGHDAD – SAMARA – TIKRIT – MOSUL 

Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul. After getting turned away from the Al Anbar region of eastern Iraq we had a second chance to explore an area once controlled by ISIS.

HOW THESE PEOPLE CAN BE SO KIND AND GENEROUS AFTER WHAT THEY HAVE GONE THROUGH IS BEYOND ME

Our first stop took us to Samara, and to what was the world’s largest mosque when it was built in 600AD. it seems everywhere we go in Iraq, you are surrounded by some of the most incredible mosques in the world and although this was in ruins you could get an idea of how impressive it was. Unfortunately, the minaret was closed as parts of the top have started to fall away (surprised Iraq have considered Health & Safety this one time).

Crossed swords monument in Iraq. Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul

Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul

WHERE IS TIKRIT?

Tikrit

AL AWJA 

Just before driving into Tikrit we stopped as close as we could get to Al Awja, which is where the bodies of Saddam and his two sons are laid to rest. The entire town is empty and access is forbidden for anyone which is bizarre. I thought at least the gravesite would be closed but the entire town…

Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul

DAILY INFO….

  • HOTEL –
    Modern Palace Hotel $80/night
    Erbil View Hotel $80/night
  • ATTRACTIONS –
    Al Awja
    Tikrit
    Camp Speicher
    Isis Headquarters, Hatra
    Mosul
    Al Nuri Mosque
    Mosul Markets
    Mosul Dam
    Rabban Hormizd Monastery
    Lalish
    Erbil

TIKRIT & SADDAMS HOMETOWN 

Saddam spent huge sums of money on himself and his people, often leaving the majority of the population to suffer. However, having been born in Tikrit, he had a special affiliation with the town and spent fortunes, often building whatever the town needed.

THE SPIDER HOLE 

This was Saddam’s birthplace and the area he returned to evade capture. It was his bodyguard Muhammed al-Muslit, a former driver and Basim Latif who informed the Americans in return for 40 members of their family to be freed. Again, the area is off limits but during the search the Americans had visited this farm many times before and found nothing, however after a second look they came across a loose piece of flooring which uncovered the famous spider hole & the scruffy body of Saddam Hussein. The hunt was over.

CAMP SPEICHER 

Many horror stories can be found in Iraq but none more so than at the old presidential complex in Tikrit. Another one of Saddam’s huge complexes, stretching almost as far as the eye can see. It was here that ISIS brought around 1,700 army cadets from the nearby military complex and had them shot and thrown in the Tigris. By the numbers, it was the second worst terror attack in history, after 9/11. The kids (all under 18) were promised they would be going home to their families and were asked to surrender their weapons, however this was only to put them into a false sense of security and they were swiftly marched to many of the mass graves or the tigris where they would be shot one by one.

Poster at Camp Speicher in Iraq. Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul

Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul

ISIS HEADQUARTERS, HATRA 

Further north on the road to Mosul we stopped at Hatra, considered the richest archaeological site from the Parthian Empire. However, for almost 4 years this was ISIS’s headquarters and training camp for the region. It was chosen for the sole reason that they knew, due to its history and archaeological importance, that it wouldn’t be bombed.

Walking around here was eerie! There were bullet holes on every building and empty shells strewn all over the ground, as they sought to train new soldiers for their bid to head south towards Baghdad.

Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul

MOSUL 

Before heading to the hotel (days are long here!) we had some food and chai at what can only be described as a dominos convention! A huge outdoor area where people drank chai, smoked shisha and played games. It was great atmosphere and good to see there is still lots of life in Mosul.

DAY 13 – AL NURI MOSQUE 

Today we are exploring the city of Mosul and what is left of the old town. It was a strange feeling to know what was going on here less than 8 years ago. We started the morning with a Chai and some mince pastry dish infront of the Al Nuri Mosque, a mosque that the leader of ISIS, Mr Baghdadi declared a new caliphate and formally introduced ISIS and their wicked ways to the west.

We were lucky enough to visit a local home where we could see first hand why it was so important to restore this area. This family had gone through it all during ISIS occupation. One of the grand children suffers from speech and hearing difficulties due to the blast of an explosive that landed near the house, something that is all too common as you walk around the city.

WHERE IS MOSUL?

Mosul

UNESCO 

UNESCO have been tasked with doing the impossible, to rebuild large parts of the city and looking around you wonder how they even got started. As ISIS was being pushed out, they left a huge number of booby traps in homes and on the streets. Each of the buildings, many of them homes had to be cleared one by one before any restoration could begin.

THE RISK 

Each of the construction machines were armoured due to the risk of hitting old explosives and for good reason, it wasn’t long until even we walked past a small area cordoned off that had a mortar shell sitting inside.

MARKETS 

Although busy, these markets still do not have the hustle and bustle of 2010. Over half the population left Mosul and a lot of them have decided not to return, but that didn’t stop us trying to eat and drink our way through the market.

REMINDER 

Heading out towards Kurdistan, we got a reminder that there is still huge risks in the area. A checkpoint had wanted us to turn back as there were 2 roadside bombs that exploded just yesterday and after a little pleading they were happy for us to drive on. This was the first time I had seen American military in public.

Tank at Hatra in Iraq. Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul

Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul

THE DAM 

Our original plan for heading out here was to visit Mosul Dam (previously called Saddam Dam) but unfortunately that was a request too far for the guards at the checkpoint so instead we took a detour down to the water to see what we could find.

I thought here we would surely be the only people but we ran into some local boys cooking a BBQ and playing some music. This is way off the beaten path and as is often the case in Iraq, you just don’t know what you are going to discover. How this country has gone through so much and it’s people remain incredibly friendly and kind is beyond me.

After stopping to check out the Rabban Hormizd Monastery and Lalish we heading across the border and into country number 161…Kurdistan. Coming into the main city of Erbil you could see the difference, this place had money and was living in the 21st century. Not sure I had ever seen so many G Wagons in such a short time.

David Simpson and locals at Mosul Dam at Mosul in Iraq. Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul

Saddam’s hometown, ISIS headquarters & Mosul

FINAL THOUGHTS

Mosul was one of the cities most affected by the war. However as much as ISIS tried to destroy the city and the soul of its people there is an incredible level of resilience in this region and people are as kind and warm as anywhere else I have been.

NEXT UP

A walk around one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world…Erbil!! Click to read.

SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
160/229

This post is part of The Iraqi Series, for the entire series click here or for episode 1, click here.

To watch the video of my trip, head to my highlights on my Instagram.

Question Time

  • Would you visit Mosul?
  • Where are you friendliest people you have met?
  • Do you prefer to travel solo?

Let me know in the comments below . . .

Send this to someone who might like it
A TOUR AROUND BAGHDAD & THE AL ANBAR
SADDAM’S TORTURE HOUSE, ERBIL & SULAYMANIYAH

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