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When the story is dead bodies rotting in the streets of Mosul, how much is too much for audiences?

Flick through cable news channels on any given night and human suffering will eventually — inevitably — fill the screen. This week the images of Syrian children foaming at the mouth after yet another alleged chemical attack in Syria were horrific.

The only takeaway for weary audiences a world away seems the prospect of more violence. The temptation to turn away is understandable.

For the journalists in the field who cover the most dangerous conflicts in the world, however, images such as those illustrate the real cost of war. Or, in one particularly gruesome example, the war’s aftermath.

This week on The Investigators, VICE News Tonight Correspondent Seb Walker recalls his return to Mosul, Iraq, for the first time since the war against ISIS was declared over eight months ago.

What he found were overwhelming scenes of decomposing bodies.

“The scale of the bodies that you see in our story is the reality of life in Mosul right now,” Walker said.

  • Watch the full interview with Seb Walker on The Investigators, Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET and Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.

In the Old City, where ISIS made its last stand, he saw dead bodies in plain sight, mostly of killed ISIS fighters and their families.

“Really this was meant to be a piece about reconstruction. We were going back to see what families were going through who’ve had their homes destroyed, like how you rebuild, kind of trying to understand that process,” he said.

“But very quickly when we got on the ground, we saw the scale of bodies that are still strewn amongst the rubble. And this is a huge hindrance to rebuilding. They can’t actually rebuild houses until they clear those bodies out of there.”

In a video titled Inside the Killing Rooms of Mosul, Walker profiles a team of citizen volunteers going house to house in Iraq’s second-largest city and removing the corpses that rot in the streets or jut out from piles of rubble.

In one scene, what appears to be dozens of bodies were discovered piled on top of one another in the basement of a blown-out building. Who they were, who killed them, and why isn’t clear. It may never be. But Walker feels he’s done his job if viewers are left feeling outraged and saddened for the families still living with the stench of death months after the fighting stopped.

Citizen volunteers in Iraq go house to house to remove corpses. Suror Abdel Karim, a female activist and a nurse, is shown with her team in Mosul’s Old City on Feb. 28, 2018.(Khalid al-Mousily/Reuters)

“I think it’s something our audience expects is that we go to these places and come back and report the reality of what’s going on on the ground in the most accurate and the most impactful way that we can,” he said. “I mean, my job isn’t really to sanitize that, it’s to represent the reality on the ground. And I think anything other than that does a disservice to the families that we feature in our piece.”

While it might be uncomfortable for viewers on the other side of the screen, Walker pointed out there are people in more discomfort than that.

“The people who are really dealing with the worst of this are the families and the people of Mosul,” he said.

VICE News on HBO investigates why almost a year after the end of war in Mosul, Iraq, decomposing corpses still line the city’s streets. The Investigators Saturdays at 9:30 pm ET and Sundays at 5:30 pm ET on CBC News Network.5:15

Also this week on The Investigators: CBC News Network Host Heather Hiscox on covering the Humboldt bus crash, Following up on Toronto Star undercover reporting after a worker’s death at a Fiera Foods factory. The Investigators airs Saturdays at 9:30 pm ET and Sundays at 5:30 pm ET on CBC News Network.

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