The Iraqi air force has been assisting with a civil society initiative to deliver millions of supportive letters via airdrop from the Iraqi people to residents in 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL) occupied west Mosul.
The initiative, launched by civil society organisations as a means to show solidarity with Mosul families and urge them to support the liberating forces, began February 19th, with the start of the military operation to reclaim Mosul.
Since then, Iraqi volunteers and activists have dropped millions of letters.
Activist and blogger Saqar al-Zakaria, who spearheaded the initiative, told Diyaruna his aim was to “send a message to all the people that we are with them”.
“We wanted to raise morale and stress the fact that their salvation is near and that victory is inevitable," he said, adding that the initiative also was a response to any attempt by ISIL to mislead people or to shake their resolve.
“As a large group of volunteers and activists, we took to the streets and markets and we started to ask the people to write letters to people," he said.
People were asked to write to their compatriots in western Mosul from their hearts, he said, and to express whatever they wanted to say, without interference or imposition of guidelines.
“We went to public places in Baghdad, and other organisations helped us to collect letters from such provinces as Basra, Najaf, Babil and Anbar, as well as locals living on the eastern side of Mosul,” he said.
The Iraqi army recaptured east Mosul at the start of this year.
Words hope and defiance
Iraqis have responded favourably to this initiative, al-Zakaria said, including those who have family and friends living in western Mosul, who penned words of love, hope and defiance to those on the other side of the city.
“When we had a million letters, we photocopied them and ended up with 15 million," he said. "We then put them in envelopes with postal stamps that read, “Letters from all Iraqis to the People of Mosul".
The letters were then airdropped on west Mosul by the Iraqi air force.
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and several volunteer groups such as Mawja in Najaf province supported and took part in the initiative.
The letters were very touching and emotional, IWPR media co-ordinator Imad al-Shara told Diyaruna, and "urged the besieged community to be steadfast in confronting ISIL and to work with the security forces".
Some letters urged west Mosul residents not to listen to the lies spun by ISIL, and promised them that the Iraqi forces would soon be victorious, he said.
“Some of the letters were directly addressed to family and friends and there were even love letters from young men from Mosul to their lovers," he said.
As testimony to the popularity of the initiative, al-Shara said, “within only three hours and in one location -- al-Mutanabi Street in Baghdad -- we managed to collect more than 1,000 letters”.
“In other areas, people surrounded the volunteers and helped them collect and transport the letters," he added.
Letters enrage ISIL fighters
According to sources in west Mosul, al-Shara said, the letter drop enraged ISIL.
When the letters rained down, he said, ISIL fighters “went about manically collecting them from the streets, squares and homes so they could get rid of them”.
But locals managed to get their hands on many of them and were pleased with their content, al-Shara said.
The letter-writing initiative underscores “the tight knit Iraqi social fabric”, activist and volunteer Ghassan al-Shlash told Diyaruna.
"Many of the letters were handwritten by people from the central and southern provinces to their brothers in Mosul," he said, and conveyed the message that "Iraqis are one body with one single enemy, which is ISIL".
The letters also included guidance to the people of west Mosul to steer clear of areas where ISIL members concentrate, he added.
Al-Shlash, who is from east Mosul, said he took part in airdropping the letters.
“When ISIL occupied our areas and [Iraqi] warplanes would drop guidance leaflets on us, we would be very happy and hopeful that we would soon be rescued," he said.