The bodies the trash collectors retrieve also end up at a municipal dump, but they are buried in unmarked mass pits around the edges. If they do find a body that they think belongs to a civilian rather than an Islamic State fighter, they will hand it over to the morgue.
I followed a team of state workers through the most devastated part of the Old City, where the militants made their last stand, and watched as they searched the rubble for any signs of bodies. Often local residents guided them toward the stench, complaining that they hadn’t been able to return home because of the smell.
The Maydan district where the militants were cornered and ultimately killed is now marked by a sign that says in Arabic: “Here is the graveyard of ISIS.”
After more than six months of decomposition, it was very hard to tell much about the remains, particularly without any sort of forensic training or equipment. With each body, however, the workers would find a telltale sign that they said indicated it was that of an Islamic State member.
Either it was fatigue-style clothing, a long beard or relatively new sneakers, which they said only fighters had at that point in the city. In many cases, it seemed impossible to tell.
In a crumbling house set on the river bank above the emerald-colored Tigris, a hard-to-reach room was filled with more than 30 bodies piled on top of each other. Either they had been executed while lying down or killed elsewhere and thrown inside. But there was no sign of anyone who was qualified or interested in trying to ascertain what had happened to these people.