Dept. of Battle Borne Babylonians


Mosul, Netflix’s new action movie produced by the Russo brothers and directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan, never feels like a recruitment film. It doesn’t feel like a film that’s written by the victors, to dramatise and romanticise war.

There are two things that help Mosul reach a war weary audience in the tiring year that has been 2020. 1) It has an all Arab cast that actually speak Arabic. And 2) it is based on the true events of a real life unit of Iraqi special forces fighting ISIS. This is not Extraction. There are no white-saviours here.


The movie opens with title cards and sweeping shots over the ravaged city of Mosul, introducing the audience to the war, ISIS (or Daesh as the locals call them), and the Nineveh SWAT team. 

Nineveh SWAT has killed so many Daesh fighters they are the only unit for which Daesh will not offer “towba” – the chance for captured Iraqi security forces to “repent” and switch sides. Captured SWAT team members are summarily executed.

Mosul titlecard
The members of the Nineveh SWAT team line up for a raid in Mosul.

Mosul tells the story of the SWAT team through the eyes of a new member, as they go on one last mission against ISIS. Over the course of 100 adrenaline fuelled, blood pumping minutes, the audience is given but a snapshot of what life must have been like for those who had to live through the occupation.

At its core, this is a very simple movie. The team have to get to a destination, and along the way they save Kawa, an Iraqi police officer (Extraction’s Adam Bessa) during a shootout, and bring him in as a new recruit. The team have to negotiate a town in ruins, with a clear delineation between the safe side (with Iraqi military who have been ordered to report them in), and the unsafe side (where the retreating ISIS are out to kill them).


Mosul is fierce, unforgiving, and unrelenting. The action is fast and loud, and the explosions will rock you. The deaths and killings will shock you. There are no heroics and no dive-in-front-of-bullets to save a friend moments. All of this is told with a harsh realism; no soaring soundtrack, no action movie music. The silence after a battle is deafening. As are the stolen moments of quiet.

Those moments, like when the SWAT team find a house after a shootout, feel jarring. The team find a room with a working television and they sit to watch the latest episode of a local soap opera. Some of them plug in their mobile phones to charge, while others prepare a hookah to smoke. The normalcy of the moment reminds you that this efficiency in death isn’t what is ordinary. That this is what these young men should be doing, not dodging bullets and throwing grenades. 

Iraqi actor Suhail Dabbach is Major Jasem, in Mosul.

The cast bring a world weariness in their portrayal of the SWAT team. Lead by Major Jasem, Iraqi actor Suhail Dabbach plays their father figure, referring to those within his charge as his sons, and fighting for the heartbreaking truth of what is left of their city. Everyone here plays their parts very matter of factly. And rightly so. Because this is what these characters know how to do. This is what they trained for. This is all they have.


There’s a lot more to be said about Mosul, from its depictions of ISIS fighters to the carnage of war on a city and a people held hostage. Mosul does enough to draw the audience in to a story that doesn’t concern itself with the bigger political and religious picture. This is a “simple” story about a group of men on a mission. 

The SWAT team make their way back to their vehicle with precious cargo in hand, in Mosul.

At the end of it, Mosul left me feeling empty, but in a good way. I found myself sitting there, in stunned silence, as the credits rolled. There were no emotional whoops of victory, and no sighs of relief. The movie is riveting and action packed, but to think that there are men out there who have had to face what these men did is just horrific. You are reminded of that at the end, as the names of the real members of the Nineveh SWAT team are listed on screen. It is a humbling reminder that the 100 adrenaline fuelled, blood pumping minutes you had just seen on TV was based on true events.

Netflix, 100 minutes
Director: Matthew Michael Carnahan
Writer: Matthew Michael Carnahan
Cast: Suhail Dabbach, Adam Bessa, Thaer Al-Shayei, Ben Affan, Ishaq Elias, Mohimen Mahbuba, Waleed Elgadi, and Hayat Kamille

Mosul is now streaming on Netflix.

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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