Mosul: Netflix Iraq war thriller recalls brutal battle against ISIS

By Tim McNulty

MOSUL has been captured numerous times, the tale of the Iraqi city’s fall to Islamic State and eventual liberation recalled in many a documentary, photograph or magazine.

Playing out over nearly a year, the battle for Mosul meant the gruelling chipping away of the terrorist group’s grip house by house.

While ferocious coalition air bombardments were called in from on high, down bellow the heavy lifting was often carried out by the men of the Iraqi army, spearheaded by the elite SWAT teams.

Bar some shakey combat clips recorded by huddled war reporters the heroics of these fighters have not fully come to light.

Now Netflix has brought out Mosul the gritty retelling of the revenge and loss of the Iraqis fighting in the climactic battle for their country’s second city. 

Joining the fighting from the opening scene, a Kurdish police recruit is in a standoff with IS militants in a bombed-out bar, his partner and wounded colleague prepare for a last stand as their ammo runs low. 

Waiting for the end the beleaguered policemen steady themselves, heavy gunfire continues, but the terrorists don’t fall upon them having been unceremoniously cut down by their rescuers.

Kawa (Adam Bessa), one of the two surviving policemen, becomes our gateway into this tight-knit group as he is picked out by Major Jasem (Suhail Dabbach) join the squad. His acceptance is reliant on the fact that he, like them, has suffered a loss at the hand of Islamic State.

Thus begins his and our emersion into the hellish reality of the SWAT unit’s personal and unsanctioned crusade against the so-called caliphate.

Screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan manages to avoid pitfalls with Mosul that many Hollywood war films seemingly love to flounder in.

In Jarhead, Green Zone, American Sniper, for example, the inhabitants of war-torn the Middle Eastern country’s are either absent, stooges or the enemy. 

This is not the case with Mosul, western coalition troops are refreshingly absent for the entire film – a notable achievement for a production company known for Captain America.

Notably, the high-intensity drama is the first-ever Arabic language movie with an Iraqi dialect produced by Netflix.

The screenplay itself is based off the incredible true-life account of an elite Iraqi SWAT team recorded in a 2017 New Yorker article by reporter Luke Mogelson.

The script’s authenticity is aided not only by exceptional all-round performances but also by a determination to touch upon the corruption and sense of betrayal that ran through the war against ‘Daesh’.  

No sooner has Kawa embarked upon his sanctioned mission with his new comrades when his former police partner betrays them, signally their position for an onrushing suicide truck. 

In another scene, the close-knit soldiers have crossed over from Mosul’s old town to the relative safety of the liberated quarters of the city having bribed their way across the frontline.

Heading back into the fray, the brutally ISIS deployed to maintain control of their shrinking urban enclaves is played out as civilians fleeing the combat are picked off from a rooftop.

The many western foreign fighters within the ranks of ISIS have been well documented and the film deals with them unceremoniously.

A claustrophobic encounter between the SWAT squad and ISIS fighters moving through a house descends into a hand to hand brawl that sees a French-speaking Jihadi plead for his life before being dispatched. 

In rare lulls between car bombings and war crimes, Major Jasem can be seen at numerous times picking up rubbish and clearing up after his fighters. 

These simple actions mirror the unflappable leader’s desire to see decades of war, terror and suffering cleansed from his homeland.

His stoic vision is summed up in the line: “We can rebuild everything, We just have to kill them all first.

But as the film moves towards its final act we learn the true purpose of Jasem’s mission, and true scale of the recovery facing a society forever marred by Islamic State’s shadow.

The battle for Mosul is now won, the city is slowly recovering and ISIS is all but eradicated.   

Mosul may yet prove a war classic in its on right, but perhaps the film’s true worth is found in the timely acknowledge of the ordinary people of Iraq who fought hard to make it so.

Featured Image: Netflix

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