With a frightened toddler on his shoulders and a tiny baby somehow asleep in his arms, this fleeing father’s haunted face sums up the horror of the siege of Mosul’s suicidal dying days.
Too exhausted and war-weary to run, he simply trudges down the road away from the hell of Islamic State’s terrifying last stand.
His family is among more than 65,000 civilians who have fled the front line in the past two weeks as ISIS battered advancing Iraqi troops with mortars.
But worse was to come. Over the past 24 hours, the extremists have detonated at least 10 suicide bombs as the Iraqi Federal Police keep pushing to the edges of the Old City.
The fight for the historic district – the final ISIS stronghold in the northern Iraq city – is seen as pivotal to its recapture.
Soldiers will have to abandon vehicles to advance on foot along the district’s narrow streets, where fighting is expected to be most savage.
Elite teams of eight men from both countries are guiding Iraqis on each attack and providing fire support to local troops, who they trained.
Our crack commandos are also on standby for strike missions to take out ISIS leaders who have around 2,000 diehards dug in all over western Mosul.
Western sniper teams are also in “overwatch” positions, hitting ISIS targets and calling in artillery, mortar and air-strikes from coalition war planes.
These include RAF Tornado and Typhoon bombers which have destroyed several key ISIS sniper nests in high buildings and also a main HQ bolthole for jihadi commanders.
Our pilots have fired a number of deadly accurate Paveway IV missiles into buildings – killing ISIS teams with pinpoint accuracy and minimising risk to civilians.
MI6, CIA and French intelligence-trained agents – locals recruited from refugee camps in Kurdistan and Turkey – are also slipping back into Mosul and leaking valuable intelligence on ISIS.
Sources also claim there have been assassinations by Western-trained hitmen now turning on ISIS from within the city.
RAF Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles are poised above Mosul and Raqqa, the ISIS main hub in neighbouring Syria, now the focus of the hunt for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Mosul is the place where he declared his “caliphate” – but intelligence sources believe he has already fled and is now in Raqqa.
Meanwhile, Col Abdul Amir – leader of the Iraqi Rapid Response Division, an elite jihadi-hunting SWAT team – claims the extremists are “in a state of panic”.
But he added that ISIS is “desperate to get what remains of their senior leadership out of the city” – and analysts claim the jihadis are increasingly relying on child suicide bombers.
Sources on the ground claim a third of the explosions in recent weeks have been carried out by youngsters under 16.
British security experts claimed the push to recapture Mosul was entering a pivotal point.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an ex-British Army officer and now an advisor to the Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga forces, said: “It appears we are reaching the end, and it’s happening a lot faster than we anticipated. There will be an awful lot of cleaning up to do.
“There will be many terror cells to dismantle and many IS fighters will have gone back into the population. It’s not until the ground is completely taken that I expect the locals will let the attacking forces know their identity.”
Half a million civilians are thought to still be trapped in the area still held by ISIS, and last night humanitarian agencies called for the safe evacuation of the remaining Iraqi civilians.
Wendy Taeuber, of the International Rescue Committee, said: “We must not forget that men, women and children inside western Mosul have suffered for more than two years under IS brutality.
“Civilians must be kept out of the firing line and given the opportunity to escape the city safely.”
Today, our father has already put that hell behind him and his children. And while they face only uncertainty on the road ahead, in the nightmare that is Mosul, they are the lucky ones.
Children play yards from dead jihadists
By Gareth Browne, on the front line in Mosul, Iraq
Most civilians in the neighbourhood of Denedan, just north of Mosul’s now unrecognisable airport, have fled.
A few remain, determined to continue life as normal despite the terror all around.
Just yards from the charred, fly-blown corpses of four IS fighters, kids play tag while a man tries to fix a broken latch on his gate.
One of the dead, who soldiers claim was a Russian fighter due to his fair skin, is missing a foot. His limb lies 20 yards away.
The street is awash with discarded body armour. The final act of the dead men was to take the heavy plates off. Perhaps they wanted to die in comfort.
But live jihadists are just 150 yards away. The risk that they could launch a counter attack or drive a car bomb at us is very real.
Their comrades’ bodies are just a few of the thousands killed since the battle for Mosul started in October.
Now people are uncertain what to do with them. They are left to fester in the street for weeks, slowly wasting away, just like the jihadists’ caliphate.
Museum reduced to rubble and ashes
Exhibits lie destroyed in the ransacked museum of Mosul, the remnants of Islamic State’s “cultural terrorism”.
Photos of the piles of rubble and wrecked exhibition halls emerged this week after Iraqi forces took the building from ISIS.
A fire in the basement reduced hundreds of rare books and manuscripts to piles of ash.
Lt Col Abdulamir al-Mohammedawi of the Rapid Response Division, the special forces unit, said ISIS “stole the artefacts and completely destroyed the museum”.
Two years ago, the jihadists released a video of militants smashing ancient statues. They also smashed stone carvings and detonated explosives at nearby Nimrud and vandalised sculptures at Hatra.
ISIS has cast its destruction of Iraqi heritage as a religiously mandated removal of idols but it has had no qualms about selling artefacts to fund its operations.