AFP / STRINGERA member from the "Rebirth
Generation", a group of Iraqi youths who are
trying to revive the embattled city of
Mosul, distributes balloons as they organise
an event to mark Valentine's Day on February
Valentine's Day returned Tuesday to the
eastern sector of the Iraqi city of Mosul
from where the Islamic State group was
expelled last month, at least for a group of
"My feelings for you flow like a river,
and will flow on for the rest of my life,"
young volunteers recited in front of the
children at one school, as plastic roses,
balloons and heart-stickered pens were
In a celebration of "love for our liberated
city", multi-coloured confetti was scattered
across the floor and in the children's hair,
as they awaited the arrival of a big cream
"This February 14 will be unforgettable!"
was the verdict of schoolgirl Manal.
"I knew there was an event that
celebrates love but this is the first time
I've had the chance to take part," said the
girl with honey-coloured eyes lined with
black kohl, framed by a traditional niqab
covering the rest of her face and hair.
Nour, aged 14, was equally enthralled.
hold ballons during a Valentine's Day event
at a school in the eastern part of Mosul
"To hold a feast with girls and boys in
the same room, with music, simply to have
fun, this was unthinkable just a few months
ago," she said.
Organisers of the Mosul-style Valentine's
Day, however, remained on their guard,
preventing children from venturing out into
the courtyard of the Azzuhur school, whose
name means flowers in Arabic.
Drones operated by the Islamic State (IS)
jihadist group still overfly parts of
eastern Mosul retaken by Iraqi forces.
"Daesh has threatened to attack any
schools which reopen. We're not safe here.
They can still reach us from the western
bank (of the Tigris River dividing the city)
or with suicide bombers," warned Farid, a
volunteer of the Nahdat Jeel (Rebirth
Generation), using an Arabic acronym for IS.
The group, made up of around 300 local
young men and women aged between 15 and 30,
was formed a month ago through contacts on
social media, and it has set itself the task
of cleaning up schools and hospitals,
repainting public squares and planting
- 'Get rid of traces' of IS -
"We must get rid of all trace of Daesh,
whether visible or symbolic," said Rafal
The many slogans splattered on the walls
to glorify the "caliphate" proclaimed by IS
leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from a Mosul
mosque in 2014 at the start of the group's
two-year rule of the city have almost all
"We're trying to carry out symbolic
actions that provide a sharp contrast with
what life was like over the past two years,"
said Muzaffar, dressed in a long black tunic
and yellow scarf.
Last week, the all-Muslim group worked on
cleaning up a huge church nicknamed "The
Titanic" because of its ship-like shape, "to
show that in Mosul our differences are our
strength", she said.
Mohamed Namoq, one of Nahdat Jil's
founders, was jailed and tortured by IS for
almost two months for having recited poems
on the radio that the group deemed
"Whatever the threats we face, nothing
can stop us from carrying on and from
shouting it out loud and clear, something we
should have done long ago," said Namoq.
Haneen, 17, is also determined to play a
role in restoring life to Mosul. "All young
people should take part, not only boys but
girls as well," she said.
As for celebrating Valentine's Day, that
was "magical, because how can you live
without love?" she asked, while pointing out
shyly -- in deference to her conservative
society -- that she does not have a