The people of Mosul endured the repressive rule of ISIS for more than two years. This is the story of the men who fought back – and defeated the Islamic State in their heartland.
In October 2016, an elite team of Iraqi Special Forces was tasked with leading the fight to drive ISIS from the city. It was the beginning of a brutal battle of attrition that was to last almost nine months.
Filmed over the course of the whole campaign, MOSUL follows the experiences of four young soldiers: Anmar, a college graduate seeking revenge after his father was victim of a suicide attack; Hussein, a ruthless sniper and aspiring soccer player; Jamal, a loyal sergeant; and Amjad, a young recruit excited to be on the frontline. Full of hope and at the beginning of the campaign, the soldiers are forced to confront the reality of fighting an elusive and vicious enemy in a city full of trapped civilians. By the end of the campaign, more than half of Anmar’s team have been killed or injured.
The film captures the impact of what a US general has called the toughest urban combat since the Second World War: daily fire-fights, suicide attacks and ambushes. Sarbil captures intimate moments of unbearable grief as friends are lost, but the soldiers are forced to keep fighting; moments when the men must choose between saving their comrades’ lives or rescuing civilians. As the fighting reaches its peak, one of their fellow soldiers is killed by an ISIS booby-trap. The team struggles to come to terms with the loss, and forces an innocent civilian to step into no-man’s land to draw out ISIS sniper fire. Hussein the sniper grimly collects photographs of scores of ISIS fighters he has shot. Jamal wakes up sobbing in the middle of the night. Then, when Mosul is just weeks away from being liberated, tragedy strikes.
In July 2017, the Iraqi Army declared victory over ISIS in Mosul. But it had come at a cost. Much of the city was destroyed, hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced. And for the surviving soldiers, haunted by what they have seen and done, the war goes on.
Mosul was an ISIS stronghold: the city from which its leader pronounced the establishment of the Islamic State, the city from which its commanders called for terrorist attacks on the United States, the city from which militants were sent to kill civilians in European cities. The war against ISIS is a war that affects us all – and MOSUL is an unprecedented and intimate portrait of the men fighting.
MOSUL is a PBS Frontline production in association with Mongoose Pictures and Channel4.
Winner of the Overseas Press Club of America Edward R. Murrow Award for Best TV documentary
Judges: Filmmaker Olivier Sarbil follows a squad of Iraqi Special Forces as they fight their way house by house through Mosul. His documentary stands out for the way it connects viewers with the characters of four Iraqi soldiers, putting human faces on an inhuman conflict. This is the ugly, unpredictable but relentless face of war, seen from up very close through Sarbil’s lens – and clearly at substantial risk to himself.”
Nominated for the British Academy Television Craft Awards (BAFTA) for Cinematography
Winner of the Grand Award for Cinematography at the New York festivals International TV & Film Awards
Filmed and Directed by Olivier Sarbil
Co-Directed and Produced by James Jones
Produced by Raney Aronson-Rath & Dan Edge
Edited by Ella Newton
Production Managed by Philippa Lacey