In some parts of Mosul, you can almost forget that a war is being waged over the city between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants who still control more than half of it – at least momentarily.
Cars clog the streets, stalls are heaped with fresh produce and bicycles weave through the traffic, as the city slowly emerges from more than two years under the iron grip of Islamic State.
As Iraqi forces prise away more and more of the militants’ largest urban stronghold, a semblance of normality is returning to eastern districts that were retaken in the early stages of a campaign that began nearly three months ago.
“We are trying to forget,” said 19-year old Wisam, slicing meat off a skewer to serve a customer in the Zuhour neighborhood.
“It will take time – some things have got inside our heads.”
Around his stall, the market was bustling with people enjoying the freedom to walk around undisturbed by the Hisba, which enforced Islamic State rules and punished infractions with fines and flogging.
Young men ran after a ball on a soccer pitch, some wearing shorts, which were forbidden under Islamic State. The logos on their football shirts, however, are still missing: the militants deemed them un-Islamic and ordered they be removed, particularly those resembling a cross.
Occasionally, the militants themselves came to play, prompting everyone else to flee in fear of being caught in the crosshairs of coalition planes targeting Islamic State, said 22-year old Osama, who runs the pitch.