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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Return to Mosul. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 8, 2017 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[21:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The following is CNN Special Report.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a city under siege, civilians, soldiers, and our crew caught in an ISIS ambush. It's been two months since we escaped.

DAMON: Go, go, go.

DAMON (voice-over): Two months left wondering about all those we left behind. Now we're going back. We need to know what happened and this is the only way. Return to Mosul.

We have been following the advance on Mosul for months. The Iraqis are fighting ISIS. An enemy unlike anything they or even the U.S. has faced before.

ISIS has held the population of Mosul, more than one million people, hostage for more than two years. The Iraqi forces are backed by a U.S.-led coalition that is providing air support and other assets.

It is November 4th, around 8:00 a.m. and, cameraman, Brice Laine and I are in an armored vehicle with a unit of Iraqi counterterrorism forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There. Car, car.

DAMON: The three cars have disappeared down the side street.

DAMON (voice-over): The men are filled with this nervous energy. They're excited, they're ready to retake Mosul.

And it starts off pretty much as expected, snipers, pot shots, suspected suicide car bombs. But all of the intelligence had indicated that ISIS had moved most of its fighters to the west. It was quickly obvious that that intelligence was all wrong. the convoy hits the narrow streets and that's when the fire fight really begins in earnest.

DAMON: See here, they've been coming across quite a bit of sniper fire, gunfire, mortar rounds.

DAMON (voice-over): There are families that are caught up in all of this, and that's heartbreaking. We meet a teenage girl who's terrified of the fighting, who's terrified that the soldiers are going to take her father away. Her younger brother cowers in the back.

A few moments later, a man who's driving a yellow car runs towards the troops. They're shooting and screaming. Everyone thought the car was packed with explosive or that he was a suicide bomber. They tried to save his life, but it was too late.

This is war. This is what war looks like. And, in the middle of all this chaos, you also see these small acts of kindness, like, a man who brings tea to the soldiers or another soldier who gently pushes a family back into their home kissing the baby.

And, then it just gets so much worse than we could've imagined. Grenades land in the street. A small piece of shrapnel flies into (INAUDIBLE) eye. A suicide car bomb takes out the back Humvee of the convoy.

The attack feels as if it's coming from all directions. The front vehicle explodes in this massive ball of flames and we're trapped. Our vehicle takes a direct hit.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: See what we're doing?

DAMON: I don't know. I -- honestly, I don't know. Go, go, go, go, go. (INAUDIBLE) get in there.

DAMON (voice-over): We end up taking shelter in people's homes. Brice has a wound to his head. One of the men in the house, his name was Nofa (ph), he makes us and the troops fried eggs in the middle of this insanity while his own family cowers in another room.

A soldier named Akhmed walks in. He's just been shot in the leg. The madness outside, it doesn't end. Later, Akhmed helps treat Brice's head wound.

In the evening, ISIS begins closing in. The bullets are ricocheting right at the doorway, but we somehow have to make a run for it. The Humvee we drive into gets entangled in another. But then finally breaks free.

We drive down the road to a house where we end up spending the night. At dawn, the fighting erupts again and it's even worse. This is a war with no frontline.

DAMON: It's been almost 20 hours since we first called for backup, sent out the alarm that we were surrounded, and we're still waiting.

DAMON (voice-over): suddenly there's the sound of a woman wailing on a rooftop that pierces through the gunfire. The remnants of the Iraqi unit we are with, most of them are wounded. Akhmed is hopping around on one leg, barking orders. They're all running out of ammunition.

It is a fight with everything you have or get overrun scenario. At one point the air strikes begin and one targets the ISIS fighters in the house next door. The debris rained down on the home that we're in, wounding a soldier on the roof above us. The family we had just spent the night with hides under the stairs. The father, Abu Abdullah, the mother, Massad (ph), and their children. One of the boys is screaming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) I don't want to die!

DAMON (voice-over): Their kitchen is a fighting position. The wounded are scattered on their living room floor. After 28 hours, reinforcements finally arrived and we are able to leave but the people we're with, the soldiers, the families, this is their life. This is their reality. Mosul is their home. It would be two months until we would know exactly what happened to them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DAMON (voice-over): In November we were imbedded with Iraqi counterterrorism forces on the first push into the city of Mosul and we were ambushed by ISIS fighters. Through the kindness of the Iraqi civilians and the courage of the Iraqi soldiers, we escaped 28 hours under siege.

Two months later, we've gone back to Mosul because we had to return, not just professionally as journalists, but on a more personal level to see what had happened to everyone who we'd left behind, the soldiers, the civilians, and to uncover the story of the house that was hit in the air strike.

As our car was winding through the labyrinth of side streets, you would see these small glimpses of normalcy but then a road that had been closed off by vehicles to prevent ISIS suicide bombers from getting through.

DAMON: It's always a bit emotional to be going back especially after such an intense experience. We are excited to see the soldiers again but at the same time we're a bit apprehensive because we're not entirely sure who survived. Hello.

DAMON (voice-over): We're looking for Major Hazim. He's the commander of the unit we were with. And as we walk up to him, he just breaks into this huge smile.

HAZIM: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) We missed you. Being under siege with you.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON (voice-over): He's always joking. He's that classic tough Iraqi man constantly trying to hide his emotions with dark humor.

HAZIM: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Come. Come say hi to your aunt.

DAMON (voice-over): One of the first soldiers we saw was Mazim (ph), who'd been wounded in his side during the ambush.

MAZIM: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) I came back here a month ago. They keep asking about us and if we're OK and I'm like, no, we're the ones that were worried about you wondering if you guys were OK.

DAMON (voice-over): Then Akhmed walks in. He was the staff sergeant who was shot in the leg that day, but despite being wounded, he had taken complete control.

BRICE LAINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You good?

AKHMED: Yes. Yes, good.

LAINE: Yes? You OK?

AKHMED: Yes.

LAINE: Yes. How's the leg?

AKHMED: Nothing, no.

LAINE: Nothing?

AKHMED: That's right.

DAMON (voice-over): There were four soldiers who were killed that day in the ambush and the men carry a photograph of one of them. Some of the soldiers, like (INAUDIBLE) they haven't returned. He was sitting up front in our armored vehicle and he got a shrapnel wound in his eye after a grenade exploded.

Some of the troops who were wounded that day, they got patched up and returned to the front lines. They don't get a break from war. We were snapping selfies and laughing and talking and gunfire broke out a few doors down.

DAMON: ISIS is basically flying one of their drones overhead. They're just saying, so, they're trying to shoot it down. Some of the other guys are in a different location but this is how unfazed everybody is because in the middle of all of that they're still trying to take photographs.

DAMON (voice-over): Drones loaded with explosives, it's what ISIS has shifted towards and it's time for us to leave.

When we come back a few days later, Akhmed is wounded again. They had responded to a fire fight just the night before and he'd gotten a little bit of shrapnel in his head.

DAMON: He's going to show, he's got a bunch of scars. He's been wounded around six times.

AKHMED: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)This is from shrapnel, an IED.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

AKHMED: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) This is a bullet would from a sniper in Fallujah. It came out from there.

DAMON (voice-over): The soldiers, they do really try to shelter their families from what life on the front lines is like, but Akhmed's wife had seen our report.

AKHMED: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) When she saw the report she cried. But when she saw me adjusting your helmet, she laughed.

DAMON (voice-over): It's only now that we have the opportunity to talk about ordinary things. We find out that Akhmed has a daughter.

Last time, when he went home to recover from his gunshot wound, his daughter didn't recognize him. The soldiers are gone all the time. It's one front after another and it's been like that for more than two years.

This is a unit that we bonded with. That kind of bond that only emerges out of intense experiences in war zones like this. But, for them, it's not over yet. Lt. Colonel Mutandhar, he led the unit that ultimately arrived as backup and got us out of Mosul. He's also a really tough guy, so much so, that his men nicknamed him Steel.

MUTANDHAR: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) When we arrived here we came under fire from all sides.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) And your officer who was killed, was it from a bullet?

MUTANDHAR: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Yes, he was hit by a bullet. We were together. The enemy came from there. It hit him in the head and the soldier behind him was wounded.

DAMON (voice-over): His son, he is only going to have photographs to remember his father. Colonel Mutandhar knows that the danger is not necessarily over. He knows that there are ISIS sleeper cells.

MUTANDHAR: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Not everyone is convinced that ISIS is gone. They expect ISIS to return. Three years is a long time. ISIS has indoctrinated them. They influenced their minds and injected fear in them.

DAMON (voice-over): He also knows that the population does not yet necessarily trust the Iraqi army. There's still a lot of confidence building to be done but you do see these moments that give you hope, like, when a soldier and a civilian who were friends reunite in the street.

We were really relieved that we'd seen the soldiers again and that most of them were okay but we needed to find out about the families who had sheltered us. Had they survived?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DAMON (voice-over): We've come back to Mosul around two months after a vicious ISIS ambush to track down the soldiers and the civilians that we befriended. We were looking around for anything that we might recognize when we

saw a place that we could never really forget.

It's the very doorway where the taxi driver died. It's just a really somber moment but life has returned to this neighborhood to some degree and suddenly someone recognizes us. A man came out and said, "Are you the journalists?"

DAMON: Brice, that's the house. His brother -- their brother is the man who made the soldiers the fried eggs and fed them and everything. (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE)

DAMON: And these are the kids that were all hiding in the back. Yes, this is it. Brice, remember?

LAINE: Yes, I do. I do.

DAMON (voice-over): It's the house we ran into after our vehicle was hit where Brice sat against the car with blood on his face where the homeowner made us fried eggs and where Akhmed, wounded himself, had treated Brice.

LAINE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Thank God you are safe.

DAMON: Akhmed, do you remember him?

(CROSSTALK)

DAMON (voice-over): It's Nofa (ph), the homeowner.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) God wrote us a new life. We are lucky and grateful to you.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) I remember you were all hiding back there. Oh, it's one of the more heartbreaking things that we've seen. I mean, you see so much that's so awful but it was just the image of the kids and the women, they were all hiding.

Behind here they pulled one of these wardrobes forward and they were all hiding behind it and they'd asked us not to film them.

NOFA: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

NOFA: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: ISIS came in and pointed guns in their face, right after we and the soldiers pulled out of this house.

NOFA: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) They asked, "Are you unbelievers?" We said, "No, we are two families." They searched us, then put a gun to my head and ordered us to go over there.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

NOFA: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON (voice-over): And then Nofa's (ph) wife came in. I didn't even know her name and she greeted me like family. It's Farrah (ph). Farrah (ph) had Nofa's (ph) son. He's just 4 years old and he was using his toy sword to show us how ISIS had marched the family out at gunpoint. Haibe (ph), she's the eldest. She's eight and she's clearly the most traumatized.

HAIBE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) I hear ISIS screaming, "I'm going to kill you."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) She started imagining things from the fear. The kids are so traumatized from by the fighting, the mortars.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Do you remember when ISIS came in?

HAIBE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Yes. They pulled guns on us.

DAMON (voice-over): We had probably left just an hour or so earlier. We had made a run for it amid insane gunfire. And, spent the night in a house further down the road. That was the family that we had spent the most time with.

DAMON: Brice, I found them. This is (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Hi! The beard is gone! He was saying the whole time -- it was like, "The first thing I'm going to do is get rid of the beard.

(CROSSTALK)

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Where is your wife? Go get her! He remembers I said, "When this is all over I'm going to come back and visit you and make sure that you guys are OK."

DAMON (voice-over): Their home had been turned into a complete war zone and they're still in the process of trying to patch it up.

DAMON: This is the kitchen window that, at one point, the troops were having to shoot and fight out off. The stairway that they were hiding under. (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON (voice-over): And then Massad came in. We had really bonded that night, mostly because she treated me as if I was one of her daughters.

MASSAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) I'm tired. I named my granddaughter after you.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) You are joking!

MASSAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) No I did! DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) When?

MASSAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) She was born 10 days ago.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

MASSAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON (voice-over): For a few minutes, I'm in this happy bubble of relief. And then a man walked in.

MASSAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) It's Abu Yassin.

ABU YASSIN: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) From the roof, it's the house across. It was on CNN.

(CROSSTALK)

ABU YASSIN: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) My son was killed.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE)

DAMON (voice-over): That was the woman whose wails we heard. While we were trapped in the house, Abu Yassin's son had been shot on a rooftop across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) The army considered anyone on rooftops to be an enemy. His killing was a mistake.

DAMON: This boy, he's 4, and now he has no father. As we walked out, there's a little boy in a wheelchair. He'd lost his legs in what we were told was an ISIS mortar strike.

When you look at the children like him, you can't help but wonder, how is this next generation of Iraqis going to cope after everything that they've seen and endured?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:30:33] DAMON (voice-over): For more than two years, ISIS occupied Mosul and terrorized its population. It took the Iraqi army that is being backed by a U.S.-led coalition around three months to liberate the eastern part of the city. And this is what was left behind, mile upon mile of devastation.

When we went back in January, people were just beginning to return home, just beginning to rebuild. But the shadow of ISIS, it just hangs everywhere. Even when you see something that looks normal in ordinary areas, it's not. Children are out playing in the streets by a home that ISIS had converted into a prison.

While we were filming, we got a call from the Salahaddin regimen, the soldiers who we were with in November, and they had just found a tunnel complex under a shrine. When we got there, there were a bunch of militia celebrating that ISIS had gone. One screamed at us, waving his American passport upside down as they drove away. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I defend the freedom of the United States and the (INAUDIBLE). Hello.

DAMON: Akhmed was there too, always smiling, and of course, always smoking. There are still explosions in the distance, this constant reminder that ISIS is never that far away.

The tunnel itself is a huge, gaping hole and the guys laughed when we asked if we can go down. We ended up walking through this ram-shackled neighborhood to another entrance that's under the shrine itself. And it's an enormous excavation and still booby trapped.

We've always wondered how ISIS had so much ammunition in Mosul, and it's obvious when you see the weapons factories they had everywhere. They were making everything from scratch, mortars, rockets. In one factory, they had fake Humvees made out of wood that they were using as decoys.

DAMON (voice-over): This almost feels like it should be some sort of crafts -- workshop. There's a childish feel to everything, but that is also what makes it all the more sinister. ISIS had even begun building its own planes. Planes not designed to land anywhere, but instead to be flying suicide bombs.

DAMON: They found this inside the industrial zone in one of the areas used for manufacturing along with some manuals. It is fairly crudely put together, but this would take a certain level of expertise, creativity and ingenuity. They've cobbled together all sorts of different parts, and even used glue to try to fix some of the wires into place.

DAMON (voice-over): For commanders like Major Hazim (ph), who has lost eight of his men in the battle for Mosul, places like this are a reminder of everything that they have sacrificed.

HAZIM: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) We liberated eastern Mosul. We got this far. This means the martyrs' blood was not lost in vain. But when I think about my soldiers who died, it saddens me.

DAMON (voice-over): And ISIS can still strike. A few days after our visit, multiple car bomb attacks killed well over a dozen people in liberated eastern Mosul, including a senior army officer. Everyone knows that ISIS can still reach into this part of the city, and that is what terrifies the population. Their nightmare, it's still not over.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DAMON (voice-over): Much of liberated Mosul is in this surreal limbo. It's stuck between what life under ISIS was and what its people so desperately want it to be. Streets look like they've been churned up and spat out by some sort of monster.

But in some neighborhoods, life is returning in that bizarre way that it does post-war. The markets are quite busy and fresh produce is readily available, finally affordable. And you have things like cell phones and cigarettes that were banned under ISIS that are now on sale.

We heard that schools were opening for the first time in more than two years. And as we were driving there, we saw little girls with their bright blue UNICEF backpacks on. At the school, the atmosphere was almost intoxicating because people were happy. And it's so rare to see happy moments in Iraq.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) How does it feel to be back at school for the first time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Happy.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) How were the conditions under ISIS?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) We were destroyed. They changed the school curriculum. They put knives in our hands and taught us how to slaughter. So my parents pulled me out of school.

DAMON (voice-over): Despite the excitement, the teachers know that there's a long road ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) We are giving them psychological support to reassure them that their lives are not lost.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Are you all happy today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Yes!

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) What about studying during the summer? Any problem with that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) No problem!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: E, F, D, H, I, J, L, M.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: K. K.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: K. L, M.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: N.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: N, O, P, Q, R, S, T.

DAMON (voice-over): When we met the girls, it was not only the stories they were telling that were shocking, but the way they told them. So matter of fact.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) They made us wear black. We had to cover our eyes.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Did you see scary things?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Yes. They lashed my father 50 times.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) They lashed your father?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Yes, his trousers were too short.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) I saw them cut a man's hand.

DAMON: When you just hear what they've been through, and that's them crowded around in their -- their way of expressing these absolute horrors in their little voices, and they're just -- they're supposed to not go through this. I mean, it's so fundamentally wrong.

DAMON (voice-over): Iraqis, young and old alike, are really good at hiding their trauma. They've been through so much, but it's their eyes that tell you that different story. So many of these children witnessed horror that we can't even begin to imagine. So many had to flee their homes.

Even now, they are still hearing explosions and gunfire every day. ISIS bans all imagery. And ISIS may no longer fully control this part of Mosul, but its presence, that still lingers and we are still looking for answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DAMON (voice-over): As Iraqi counterterrorism forces pushed into Mosul, we were embedded with them and ended up ambushed by ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, go, go.

DAMON (voice-over): We were trapped for 28 hours. During that time, an air strike had levelled the house beside the one where we had spent the night.

We've returned to try to uncover what happened inside that house. We've been told that two families were inside when it was hit by the air strike that morning in November. We had already met Abu Yasin (ph), whose son was shot that morning, whose daughter-in-law's cries we filmed. He did not just lose his son that day. He also lost his neighbors.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Where are they buried?

ABU YASIN: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Over there.

DAMON: The graves for two of the people who were killed. All right, here. (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) That's the husband and wife. He was the homeowner.

ABU YASIN: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) My neighbours, my son, the family. We were all brothers.

DAMON (voice-over): We were given the phone number of a relative who knew more about what had happened. He was too afraid to go on camera, so we're just going to call him Abu Muhammad. Abu Muhammad told us that that morning, eight to 10 ISIS fighters jumped over the wall of the house and demanded access to the roof top. The families had begged to be allowed to leave. But they were made to stay as human shields.

ABU MUHAMMAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) What did the ISIS emir do? He left one gunman downstairs and said to him: "If they try to leave the house, kill all of them." They went up to the roof and left one fighter with the family. Then they started firing from the roof. The plane came and hit the house.

DAMON (voice-over): Eight civilians died. Two teenagers survived, along with a 4-year-old boy who Abu Muhammad is now looking after. And it's the boy's parents who are buried anonymously in that Mosul back garden.

ABU MUHAMMAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) The child doesn't know that his parents and sister are dead.

DAMON (voice-over): He doesn't know?

ABU MUHAMMAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) I swear he doesn't know. I swear. He asks, "When is daddy coming?" I tell him, "When the road reopens, daddy will come."

DAMON (voice-over): It was a coalition air strike that had killed multiple members of his family. And yet, we couldn't hear any blame or bitterness in Abu Muhammad's voice. There was just this infinite sadness.

ABU MUHAMMAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) I am sure that the pilot, regardless of his nationality or religion, if he had known there were two families used as human shields, he wouldn't have hit the house. Or he would have used a smaller missile. Because a human being, no matter his religion, has a conscience.

DAMON (voice-over): Healing seems like it might be an impossibility for Abu Muhammad. The shadow of tragedy is just going to haunt him for the rest of his life.

ABU MUHAMMAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) I hope you will never experience what we went through.

DAMON (voice-over): And we are privileged that we never will. We just saw a fraction of it and got out. Before we leave Mosul this trip, we stop one more time to see the family that had been so kind to us.

Abu Abdullah (ph), he was just so excited that we had come back. And his wife Massad (ph) she just kept fussing over me. These people have such compassion and empathy, it never seizes to amaze me.

DAMON: The last time we came, he's saying it was so chaotic and it was such a surprise. There's lot that they weren't able to say just yet. I think I've been officially adopted.

DAMON (voice-over): This family, in sharing their home with us and the soldiers, they may as well have saved our lives. And that experience forges a unique bond.

DAMON: We spent quite a bit of time in this stairway. This is the corner that I was sitting in, and I would stick this phone out. They remember. And I would stick the phone out, trying to get reception on it to send messages out.

DAMON (voice-over): Most of them were to our producer, Hamdi, who was updating us with the information he had.

HAMDI ALKHSHALI, NEWS DESK PRODUCER, CNN: But those had got hit, I was waiting right there all night. That's where I parked.

DAMON (voice-over): And I remember thinking back then, this is what the population of Mosul has to go through, sneaking upstairs to get a little bit of cell phone reception, knowing that they would be executed by ISIS if they were caught.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) I don't want to die!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) This is the one who was panicking under the stairs.

DAMON: He's the one who was screaming, "I don't want to die!"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) I am little.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) You were scared?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Yes I was. Very scared.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Do you have nightmares?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) No, no.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Has your school reopened yet?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Hopefully soon.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) What do you want to be in the future?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) A doctor.

DAMON: Doctor.

DAMON (voice-over): There are just kids all over the place, grandkids, nieces, nephews. The place is beginning to feel like a home again. But there's one child in particular that Massad (ph) really wants me to meet.

MASSAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) This is Arwa.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Where is her mother?

MASSAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) She's inside.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Did you really name her Arwa?

MASSAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) I swear I did.

DAMON (voice-over): Baby Arwa was so oblivious and sleeping so peacefully, but we couldn't help but wonder what kind of an Iraq was she going to grow up in?

MASSAD: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Take her to America.

DAMON: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) No, no, no.

DAMON (voice-over): Two generations of Iraqis have known nothing but violence. Inflicted first by Saddam Hussein, then by the U.S.-led invasion, sectarian warfare and terrorism.

And yet, there is this incredible goodwill. Unbelievable generosity. The resilience of the human spirit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGAUGE) Long live the army!

DAMON (voice-over): The irrepressible smiles of those kids weeks after they emerged from living under ISIS' rule. And the valor of ordinary soldiers who dream of an end to battle. Men like Akhmed who promised me his helmet when it was all over.

Iraq has had so many false starts. Its people misled, cheated, manipulated. Its history provides no reason for optimism. But when you meet the Iraqi people, that's when you can imagine the possibility of something better.