photo: Eddy van Wessel


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.”
Read on here:

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.
Read on here:

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:

Iraq’s heritage sites must be sealed off, documented after Mosul liberation

The damage done to archeological and heritage sites in Iraq under ISIS did not stop when these places were liberated and the radical group expelled, says Abdullah Qader, the director of Iraqi institute for Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage in Erbil.

He believes that the damage to major sites such as Nimrud and monasteries and churches should have been documented immediately after liberation, which was not the case, for lack of planning and money. Qader, who also heads the Association of Archaeologists in Kurdistan, argues that the sites should be closed until proper documentation is done to make ensure that nothing is or will get stolen and so rebuilding will be possible.

What should be the policy for the archeological sites, after ISIS?

Abdullah Qader If I were to decide, I would send teams of archeologists with the army to start documenting the sites. But we are an institute for training, and this is an issue for the authorities in Baghdad. Only in Mosul we had ninety archeologists working, as guides, supervisors, teachers; most of them are now living in Duhok, Sulaimani and Erbil. What is their role now? In Amman, a workshop has been held for ten archeologists in Iraq and Syria, who even got a bag with cameras and other things to use for the documentation of liberated sites. But we see on TV that churches are being liberated and then people go there and start cleaning. That should not happen. First the damage needs to be documented, then they can clean. I would prefer these areas to be closed so that nobody can go there until the specialist teams have done their work.

Read the whole article here