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An Iraqi spa for soldiers to relax after battling ISIS

Published: Updated:

Hammam al-Alil's sulphur springs and reopened spa have become a spot where the soldiers fighting in Mosul and the civilians fleeing it meet for a rare moment of relaxation.

"We fight on the front line and we come here when we get leave," said Sahad Mohammed Jaber, a 32-year-old member of a federal police artillery unit.

"We relax, take a bath and go back to battle," said the young fighter, walking around the dilapidated spa in his dripping wet white socks and a police cap tightly fitted to the brow.

Hammam al-Alil lies a half-hour drive south of the front line in west Mosul, where thousands of Iraqi forces are attempting to root out diehard ISIS militants defending their last major bastion in Iraq.

After spending close to three years of his life trapped in the "caliphate" that ISIS proclaimed, Aziz said he was delighted to dip in the same pool as the people the jihadists see as heretics deserving death.

"There are people from Basra, Diwaniya, Karbala, Baghdad... the people of the south are my brothers," he said with a broad smile.

Iraq's south is mostly Shiite while Mosul is overwhelmingly Sunni.

While the regular forces are not recruited along sectarian lines, their make-up reflects the country's demography and the majority of the fighters involved in the six-month-old operation against ISIS are Shiite.

The staff at the Hammam al-Ali spa are also happy to see the place crowded again.

"Under Daesh, people had no money so very few people came," said Hussein Abdallah, one of the spa's employees. "Thank God, now salaries are being paid again and the security forces also come here."

There were some regular visitors under the caliphate, Abdallah recalled.

"Daesh fighters would always come here. They would go to fight and then come here after the battle," he said, listing some of their nationalities: "Iraqis, Europeans, Chechens, Chinese..."

"When we retook this area, we changed the water," said Laith Ali Farhan, a government fighter. "Because you know, these people were very dirty."