photo: Eddy van Wessel


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Stop the killing, create a corridor

We knew the fight for the West of Mosul was going to be a tough one. Yet the deaths of hundreds of civilians, under the rubble of collapsed buildings, are much more than collateral damage on the just cause to beat the Islamic terror group ISIS.

Were the buildings, where ISIS had collected civilians as a human shield, rigged by explosives set off by the group, as the Iraqi army is indicating? Or was the information the Iraqis fed the coalition on targets incorrect? Or did the Iraqis chose the location too lightly, just targeting the sharp shooters on the roof who were taking the attention away from the real targets next door?

There are many questions that can and should be asked, because killing hundreds of innocent civilians in one day can never justified.

The coalition has since said they take "deliberate actions to minimize unnecessary suffering" and that they will "continue to prioritize the protection of the people of Iraq".

But what is unnecessary suffering, if not the way men, women and children died, cramped in a cellar trying to survive from the ferocious bombing campaign?

I absolutely agree that ISIS needs to be defeated, but surely not to the costs of civilians who also spent almost three years under the cruel rule of ISIS.

The way they now get killed, makes you wonder about the care that the military has been taken in this battle.

By trapping ISIS on the Westbank of Mosul, one could predict that the fighting would be fierce as all these brainwashed men can do is fight till death that they believe will bring them paradise.

Their cause, the jihad, is omni important for them; civilians who are not supporting it are unbelievers and seen as the enemy.

These civilians are really caught in the middle, as on the one hand the ISIS top issued a special fatwa making it OK if Muslim civilians get killed in the fight for the good cause.

And on the other hand, the policy of Baghdad in the past has shown that it considered Mosul as a city that deserved ISIS for the way it showed its unhappiness with the Shiite government.

Moslawi civilians are very aware of the fact that Baghdad was forewarned about the activities of ISIS that led to its take over of the city in Juni 2014, and did nothing to prevent it.

They also remember very well that Iraqi troops got out when ISIS entered in stead of defending them, based on orders from then prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Even though civilians are grateful to and happy with the troops that liberate them from ISIS, and have shown this in every area the Iraqi army reached, that feeling does not extend to the Iraqi government.

Bombing civilians, and then refusing to come clean and taking the blame for what happened, is not 
helping to increase the popularity of the Shiite politicians in charge in Baghdad.

Moslawis have been through hell, as they told me, lost three years of their lives and are now confronted with the loss of houses and livelyhood.

They now need a government that they can trust, to be able to put their trust in the future and start rebuilding. And they need to be sure that ISIS will not in some way get back and retaliate.

What is needed first is to finish off ISIS in Mosul, but as the neighbourhoods left are old and cramped, the policy of leaving the ISIS fighters no corridor to escape should be reconsidered.

Let the fighters know they can leave, as long as they leave all behind, and part of the desperation will leave the battle for them too.

Finish them off elsewhere, where civilians are not going to be involved. Lure them to another place to smoke them out. Whatever policy is used will do, as long as inocent people are left off the hook.

We expect they will regroup in the border area of Syria and Iraq, which is mostly desert and hardly inhabited, so that sounds like the perfect place to contain and beat them.

Because if the government is honest about wanting to liberate Mosul, it needs to show it cares for its people. 

And only if Moslawis have the feeling that their urge to rebuild their city and their lives will be supported by politicians that run the country, they will be tempted to make this happen.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mosul’s westside longing for liberation

“When are you coming to liberate us,” desperate civilians from Mosul’s occupied Westbank ask the world, in SMSs sent to the Moslawi radio station Alghad, broadcasting from the Kurdistan capital of Erbil.

These are voices that are hardly heard outside the occupied neighbourhoods of Iraq’s second city, of the thousands that are still suffering under the control of the Islamic terror group ISIS.

In the daily phone-in at the station, civilians from the west of Mosul reach the program only through SMS, as the telephone signal is too weak in ISIS territory where none of the telephone repeaters pulled down by the group have been reinstated yet, like in the liberated East.

Presenter Ahmed al-Moslawi (not his real name) reads them out, and adds details, sometimes a soothing comment or a call for the authorities to act.

Abu Amjed sounds desperate in his MSM: “When are they going to liberate us? We are hungry. If it takes too long I will put poison for myself and my children to get rid of this life.”

Another caller who does not mention a name says in his SMS that “everyday bombs are falling, we don’t know what will happen, please liberate us”.

After the eastside of Mosul was declared liberated last month ago, the Iraqi army has focused on securing the area and getting rid of ISIS there, but the operation for the westside has been announced to start soon.

Desperation is clear from an SMS that asks whether “it is true that the liberation has been delayed by six months”, showing the result of the propaganda ISIS uses to make sure the civilians on the Westbank get a bad impression of the efforts of the Iraqi army.

Ayman says in an SMS he is waiting for the forces to come; “even the mountain cannot bear what we have to bear”, adding they only have one meal a day.

Humanitarian organisations have sounded the alarm about the situation of some 750.000 civilians locked in the western side of Mosul, where because of the siege many suffer from a lack of food.

As a result, the prices have gone up enormously; during the program a price of 100 dollar is mentioned for 50 kilo of flour, and 10.000 dinar (9 dollars) for a kilo of rice, both essential products in the traditional Iraqi kitchen which now sell at a tenfold of its normal price.

“ISIS is taking the food stuffs off the markets, we cannot find them anymore,” another desperate SMS from the Westbank reads.

Even though in the liberated neighbourhoods in the East life has gone back to normal, with shops reopening and young people cleaning the streets, not one of the phone calls from there during the phone-in hour sounds happy.

Most phoning, complain about the lack of a salary, saying that the Iraqi government still is not paying its civil servants even though they have done all the paperwork needed. 

While those who fled the city usually receive their government salaries within weeks after applying, in Mosul most inhabitants still suffer from a lack of money.

Abu Mohammed from the Eastbank even declares that the difference between West and East is not that big: “We have no electricity, are drinking rainwater from the valley, nobody is helping us, not the provincial authorities, not internationally.”

“We don’t have any money, we sold everything,” another person using the same name of Abu Mohammed says.

Apart about the lack of money, people from the liberated parts of Mosul still complain about the security. ISIS still has been able to infiltrate, and exploded a number of bombs there recently.

An SMS from Rashidiya, one of the areas hit, asks if there were chemicals in the bombs: “We need advice, do we stay or leave?”

A young woman called Raghad phones to say that her father, a teacher, had been taken by the military as being involved with ISIS, or Daesh as the group is called locally, which she says is not true.

“Since 18 days we do not know anything about him. Some people who hate my father just told the army that he is with Daesh.”

A student says people in her neighbourhood gave information about someone who was with ISIS: “They came and picked him up, but he was released two days later. But we know Daesh has fake ID’s.”

Radio Alghad’s editor in chief, using the name Mohammed al-Mosuli, says the station has received many similar complaints, as many ISIS-members went underground after shaving their beards.

He recounts an incident that was recently reported from the Eastside, where ISIS supporters were able to enters mosques to call for allegiance over the speakers: “People thought Daesh was in control again.”

Because of the attacks, people start wondering about safety again, he says, doubting the police and the army, and the effectivity of checkpoints.

He asked the provincial government repeatedly but in vain to answer their questions. “People are getting impatient. They need to be reassured.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Offer Iraq’s Christians the safety they need to go home

On Christmas Eve church bells rang for the first time in two years on Christmas in Bartella, a predominantly Christian town outside Mosul.

Even though the Mar Shimoni church has been badly damaged by ISIS, it was filled with Christians who returned to their town for this occasion.

For the most part, they would return afterwards to their places of refuge in Ainkawa, the Christian enclave of the Kurdish capital Erbil, where they fled when ISIS entered their town in August 2014.

Not only because they had since found homes, work and income, and not even because their houses have been looted, or have been used as bomb factories and pharmacies, or damaged by tunnel building or air strikes.

The reason why hardly anyone has in the past two months returned to the liberated Christian towns of Nineveh was clearly illustrated by the gunmen that guarded churchgoers on Christmas Day from the roofs in Qaraqosh, where hundreds attended mass in the Mar Yohanna Church.

ISIS had left its graffiti there, as a warning for those daring to consider returning, written inside the church, declaring that ‘the Islamic State remains and extends’.
Read on here:

Journalists must be able to witness the war

For over ten days the Iraqi arm’s Golden Brigade has refused to allow foreign journalists into eastern Mosul to cover the battle against ISIS.

The army is upset about the high death toll published by the foreign media, fearing that it is something ISIS could use in its propaganda. The order to ban the media has supposedly come from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Dozens of journalists have come to Iraq to report the war by embedding with the Golden Brigade, other divisions of the Iraqi army, the Kurdish Peshmerga or the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militia.

Since the Peshmerga have finished most of their fight, the attention now is mainly on the Iraqi army in Mosul.

These are stories of soldiers’ heroism, of civilian suffering, of ISIS method of fighting and of weapons and explosives factories.

It is clear that the use of car-bombs and snipers has claimed the lives of hundreds of people with ISIS even shooting at playing children, but the army death toll has remained a secret.

And I do not think the only concern is ISIS propaganda.
Read on here

No pills, but art therapy for trauma victims

With a shortage of therapists in the country, many of the thousands of traumatized victims of war and violence in Iraq are treated with pills that often do not offer a solution for their trauma.

The most well-known cases of trauma are among the many Yezidi victims of ISIS. But as the militant group gets pushed back further, more victims are emerging in towns and villages around Mosul, and from the city itself.

As the number of people needing therapy is rising, it is increasingly important to find ways to educate more therapists. A training of trainers in art therapy program was, therefore, set up in the Kurdistan Region capital Erbil.

“The training teaches trainers to use skills that will be an alternative to the medicine,” said Bahar Ali of the local Emma Foundation, who organized the training. “Art is an easy tool. We can use it in schools and shelters, anywhere in the society.”

She pointed out that “especially now after ISIS, it is a good time to start with this therapy, as we do not have the experts.”
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Moving on from an overstaffed idle government to a vibrant private sector

He was photographed in his graduation costume, with some sheep on a Kurdish mountainside. The Kurdish student who graduated earlier this year as one of the best of his year from the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Duhok, had not been able to find a job, and therefor joined his brother as a shepherd.

Citing the young man who said he would like to continue studying for a Masters and Doctorate of Philosophy, but that the economic crisis and lack of support from the government had compelled him to become a shepherd, his fate drew the attention of the Kurdish press.

Message: bright young man wasted years of studying because the government does not help him get a job.

Apart from the hardship the economic crisis in the Kurdistan Region is causing him, the very expectation that the government should give fresh graduates a job is very much part of the cause of the crisis.
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Struggling against winter cold: Life inside Debega camp

The young woman holds her sleeping baby tight; the little girl is ill, because of the cold wave that has suddenly set in, and because they have had to sleep on the floor, she says.

The 22-year-old mother from Qaraj, near Makhmour who has been in the camp for less than a month, says her little Sabrina is two years old, but with a pacifier in her mouth and bundled up in a small blanket she looks a lot younger.

On top of the cold the baby is dealing with the consequences of a malnutrition she suffered under ISIS. Her mother searched for baby milk from village to village for almost a year, and this has left its mark on her and her two children.

Baby milk is still scarce, so is nappies, warm clothes and bedding.

“I stay with my husband’s family, and they have everything, I have nothing,” she complains.
Read on here: