photo: Eddy van Wessel

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Friday, October 2, 2020

Are Iraqi youths losing their religion?

Despite the influence of religion in Iraqi politics, recent studies show that young people in Iraq are increasingly identifying as secularist. 

by Judit Neurink

“It’s about my identity,” Yara Ali said with confidence. Ali is an Arab-Iraqi lawyer and prominent activist living in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq; for security reasons, she uses a pseudonym.

“I was forced to wear it. It was to protect me, but it wasn’t me.” Yara, 29, told Al-Monitor. A couple of years ago, the modern, educated woman who had become a professional and loved her job decided to take off her headscarf.

Her internal conflict was caused by her upbringing by a pious mother and a secular father. “I was raised to be independent and strong, with my mother setting limits,” she said. The emancipation process gained speed when she traveled for her work and studies and was introduced to people with different backgrounds from her own.

“Extremist groups were another layer,” she said of the process that ended with her eventually taking off the headscarf. The policies that the Islamic State (IS) promoted in captured areas inside Iraq and Syria, and the atrocities they committed there, shocked the world. “It made me worry how people saw me — because of IS many people now view Muslims as bad people.”

Although Arab Barometer, a research network at Princeton University and the University of Michigan, suggests that the political system in countries like Iraq and Lebanon reinforces religious identities, which serves to maintain the religious influence in daily life, the same body concluded its 2019 polling surveys by writing, "There has been a decline in religious faith and trust in religious parties across the Middle East and North Africa."



Friday, June 12, 2020

Bankrupt Kurdistan is no longer 'the other Iraq'

The Kurdistan region of Iraq has hit rock bottom. What was once a promising 'other Iraq' is now a politically and financially bankrupt disappointment, writes Judit Neurink. 


"Welcome to 'the other Iraq'," tourists would be told when holidaying in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The three Iraqi provinces the Kurds have governed since 1992 were not only lush, green and mountain cool, but also more liberal, democratic and safer than the rest of Iraq.

It was the promise of democratic development that brought me to Kurdistan's cultural capital, Sulaymaniyah in 2008. After years of regularly visiting Iraq to train journalists, I had come to set up a media centre focused on developing the role of media, politicians and police in their new democracy.

Here, intellectual freedom - struggling in the region as a whole - finally seemed a given. Independent media started up, we organised debates, people dared to speak out. It was a completely different situation from the rest of Iraq and would only get better with time.

Twelve years later, that promise seems to have vanished behind the mountains. Soon after I settled in Kurdistan, one of my students was murdered for exposing ties between politicians and prostitution. More colleagues have been killed since. Tribal loyalties and overeager party members were usually blamed, in order to hide the darker and still less palatable truth.

A press law was now in place, but most courts still tried journalists using older laws that allowed them to impose punishments for reporting on taboo subjects like fraud, self-enrichment and abuses of powers.

I have seen TV studios set on fire and journalists beaten, harassed and arrested. Independent papers have now disappeared from the streets, and are now fighting for survival online. The freedoms the Kurds had worked so hard to prioritise, have been taken away by politicians who always put their own survival first.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Jewish heritage survived 'Islamic State' in Iraq

Mosul's Jewish quarter miraculously survived three years of occupation by the "Islamic State" terror group and the battle to evict it. Reporter Judit Neurink and photographer Eddy van Wessel went there to find out how.

Jewish heritage in Mosul (FOTO JUDIT NEURINK)

Judit Neurink, Mosul

When the Islamic militants of IS were finally routed from the city, most of western Mosul was left in ruins. But not the Jewish quarter. Here too, people are working to restore their houses. However, these are mostly still standing and mainly need repairs and a coat of paint to erase the traces of three years of occupation. While most residents fled the battle to free their neighborhoods of IS, they are now back.

Seventy-two-year-old Imad Fetah, who stands in front of his freshly painted gate, wearing a spotless white dishdasha, a scarf draped over his head, never left..

As he recounts the events of the years of occupation, he points to the blackened remains of a building across the narrow street. The fire was started by IS, he says, after the inhabitants had been ordered to leave. The house, which was built around a covered courtyard in the traditional Mosul style, is badly damaged but can still be restored.

When people realized what IS intended to do to their homes, they started refusing to leave. Fetah stayed put, too. "Daesh destroys old things," he says sadly, using the local name for IS. It wasn't only this neighborhood — every monument that did not fit with their strict version of Islam had to go: statues of poets and writers, Sufi places of worship, libraries with unique book collections.

The Islamic militants would only tolerate the things they had a use for, Fetah states. "Like the tunnels in our quarter which the Jews had dug." The tunnels were built to give the residents an escape route in case of danger. Until the IS takeover, they were likely last used when anti-Jewish riots erupted after the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948.

Read the whole story here

Bringing IS masses to justice poses quandaries

What will happen to the thousands of IS members who surrendered in the final phase of the battle in Syria? Neighboring Iraq might try them but the country suffers from overcrowded prisons and overworked courts.

ISIS-prisoners waiting for their turn in front of the judge (FOTO JUDIT NEURINK)

Judit Neurink, Erbil

With the battle against the terror group "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria now reportedly over, more than 65,000 of its members, among them thousands of foreigners, are being detained in camps run by Syrian Kurds. Since Syria's informal Kurdish region is unequipped to try them, and Western countries are not willing to take them back, Iraq has been asked for help.

The Syrian Kurds, who have been fighting IS as part of a coalition with the United States, are overwhelmed by the huge number of fighters who are now in their custody. They have warned that they cannot guarantee their continued imprisonment in case of an expected Turkish assault on their region.

In search of a solution, Washington turned to Baghdad, and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has announced that, as part of an undisclosed agreement, Iraq will try those foreign IS members from Syria who have committed crimes against Iraqis. He also promised to help repatriate other foreign members/fighters to their home countries. Fourteen French IS members have since been taken from Syria to Baghdad, along with 280 Iraqis, a number which is set to rise to 500 as part of the agreement. Talks are ongoing to transfer a total of 20,000 Iraqi IS men, women and children to Iraq, the International Red Cross has reported.

Read the whole story here

Yazidis demand Iraq actively search for their missing persons

"Islamic State" is fighting its endgame with Yazidis waiting anxiously. Angered by Iraqi government silence following reports that IS killed 50 of their women, they are pushing for real action to find 3,000 of their own.

Suaad Daoud (DW/J. Neurink)
 
Judit Neurink, Zakho
After more than four and a half years as prisoners of the Islamic terror group "Islamic State," 21 Iraqi Yazidis, most of them children, were recently reunited with their families in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Only a small number of Yazidis have been able to escape from Baghouz, the final holdout of IS.

Of the more than 6,000 members of the religious minority that IS kidnapped in Iraq in 2014, intending to turn the women into sex slaves and the boys into fighters, some 3,000 women, children and men are still missing. And while the exact number of Yazidis who have got out of Baghouz is not known, it is not more than a few dozen.

One of them is Suaad Daoud, 21, who last month left the Syrian enclave with the IS family she served and has now been reunited with surviving relatives in a Yazidi camp in Kurdistan. Talking in a quiet restaurant near the Iraqi Kurdish border city of Zakho, though distracted at times, she appears to have survived the atrocities she was subjected to relatively well.

She knows that many Yazidi women and children are still with IS families since fleeing Baghouz but not coming forward. "They are scared," she says. When leaving the village, she disobeyed her captors and gave her real Yazidi name to the Syrian Kurdish forces of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who received them. "They told us we would be killed if we did," she says.

Read the whole story here

Mosul: Where demons, women and 'Islamic State' met

During the IS occupation of Iraq's Mosul, secret sessions were held for women to exorcise demons — despite the IS deeming them black magic and banning any alternative religious practices. 


Judit Neurink, Mosul

"Women still come asking for the exorcism sessions," says Othman, the muezzin who, five times a day, calls the faithful to pray at the Haiba Khatoon Mosque in the center of Mosul. He did the same during the three years Iraq's second city was occupied by IS and recalls how women would flock to the mosque for the sessions held especially for them to evict djinns, as the Quran calls demons or supernatural creatures.

Othman is sitting in the mosque's gardens, where men are performing their prayers. This busy mosque near the University of Mosul is used a lot by traders, students and travelers who miss one of the set prayer times.

It seems too busy a place for demon eviction sessions to have been held there, which hardly anyone knew about. Imams who returned to their mosques after IS left deny any knowledge of the practice anywhere during the occupation. "Most people in Mosul had no idea what was going on here," Othman said. "Perhaps only those who regularly came to this mosque to pray." The sessions were held between the midday and 3 p.m. prayer sessions, and only in the women's section. "And the women only used the side entrance."

Read the whole story

Monday, December 3, 2018

Is the 'Islamic State' making a comeback in Iraq?

The Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq says that IS is rising like a phoenix from the ashes. The organization is regrouping, filling the void left by its quarreling adversaries. Judit Neurink reports from Irbil and Mosul.

West-Mosul is trying to return to life  PHOTO JUDIT NEURINK