Alice Fordham

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.

In this role, she reports on Lebanon, Syria and many of the countries throughout the Middle East.

Before joining NPR in 2014, Fordham covered the Middle East for five years, reporting for The Washington Post, the Economist, The Times and other publications. She has worked in wars and political turmoil but also amid beauty, resilience and fun.

In 2011, Fordham was a Stern Fellow at the Washington Post. That same year she won the Next Century Foundation's Breakaway award, in part for an investigation into Iraqi prisons.

Fordham graduated from Cambridge University with a Bachelor of Arts in Classics.

The Hassan Sham camp, a sprawling refuge for displaced people east of Mosul, is growing by the day as people flee fighting in the city, which Iraqi forces are trying to wrest from ISIS control.

Among the tents, toilets and food distribution centers, aid workers have set up classrooms in tents. There's a play space where little girls are jumping rope in the chilly sunshine, while hundreds more children sit in class.

They're learning English, Arabic, arithmetic — most for the first time in years.

When archaeologist Layla Salih was a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Mosul, Iraq, she visited the ancient site of Nimrud for the first time on a field trip, led by a guide past the remnants of temples and roads to the ancient palace of Ashurnasirpal II.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For a month, Iraqi forces have been pressing an offensive against ISIS in the city of Mosul. As NPR's Alice Fordham reports, one elite group is bearing much of that burden.

The Iraqi soldiers posing for photos next to a pile of captured ISIS weaponry — mortar shells, tanks, even a tunnel-boring machine — are battle-hardened. They have been fighting ISIS all over the country since 2014, when about a third of Iraq fell to the extremists.

Speaking at a little base in northern Iraq, they say the fight for ISIS' largest stronghold, Mosul, is different.

The Karamlesh village meeting begins the traditional way, with Christian prayers led by a priest, murmured and sung, lingering in the evening air.

But the meeting's not in the actual village of Karamlesh. It's 40 miles away in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, on red plastic chairs under a dust-yellow sky, next to the corrugated trailers some of these people have been living in since 2014 when the Islamic State took their village.

Hassan Shami camp, about 15 miles east of Mosul, is pristine, the gravel spotless, the rows of tents still white and mostly empty.

There aren't yet the crowds of children, piles of garish mattresses, makeshift bathtubs, half-eaten bowls of rice and beans that have become familiar sights at Iraq's many camps for about 2 million people now displaced by the fight against the Islamic State.

That is likely to change, and soon.

The Iraqi military and its allies have been pushing for a week toward the city of Mosul, held by the Islamic State. For people fleeing the fighting, a few thousand so far, it's been an unbelievably frightening seven days.

In the Debaga camp for displaced people, about 50 miles southeast of Mosul, which is becoming more crowded, I sit with a family who tell me about leaving the village where they lived under ISIS more than two years.

In the sunlit courtyard of a mosque, overlooked by jagged mountains, dozens of men arrive to offer condolences to the family of Brigadier Hamid Birmous.

The commander with the Iraqi Kurdish forces known as peshmerga was killed in action by an ISIS bomb during the operation to retake the city of Mosul, which began this week. Iraqi security forces continue to fight their way through villages and countryside outside the city.

To find Mosul's cops, you drive to a gray dot of a village in an endless desert. The village, Mahana, was retaken from the Islamic State a few months ago and for now it's the police base for cops who left Mosul when ISIS took over more than two years ago.

Iraq's army and its allies are now battling their way through rural areas toward the larger prize of retaking Mosul. Helicopters buzz back and forth from the frontlines. Every breath is bitter with smoke from oil wells set alight by ISIS.

The man from Mosul is neat and tidy, in his mid-30s. He uses careful English and tries to stop his voice from trembling as he speaks about the Iraqi city he lived in all his life.

"My mind is full with memories," he says. "Friends. Home. You know — my home. I was born there."

ISIS has occupied Mosul for more than two years. Residents describe a regime of strict rules and savagely violent punishments for breaking them. The man is too afraid of ISIS to give his name or occupation, but he is a professional. He brought up a family in Mosul.

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