photo: Eddy van Wessel

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Two years on: How does Mosul resist its ISIS occupiers?

Two years after militants of the Islamic State (ISIS) captured Iraq’s second largest city, most people in Mosul are still waiting to be freed from the rule of the extremist group. People who are in touch with relatives in the city testify to this reality.


One piece of news reaching outside tells of peaceful resistance by civilians in Mosul. Even though all resistance is punishable by death, people have found ways to show their anger.


They paint on walls the letter ‘M’ the short for Muqawama, or resistance in Arabic. They also write the letter on pieces of paper and photograph it in parts of the city before posting it on social media.


The letter also gets sprayed on houses where ISIS fighters or leaders live, who often flee once they discover it, fearing it might means they are going to be targeted by coalition air strikes.


Possibly the most striking act of resistance is when civilians spray on public walls words such as ‘your days are numbered’ or ‘leave us alone’.
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Tikrit University brings life back to Saddam’s hometown

The re-opening of the University of Tikrit in December 2015 was the main reason many civilians decided to return home before there was even a council to handle the city’s daily administration, says Waad Raoof, the university’s president.

“Some 20,000 families came back with the students, and even at a time that Tikrit did not yet have a working council,” said Raoof.

The university campus was badly damaged in the fight for the city’s liberation from the Islamic State (ISIS) in April 2015.

ISIS briefly occupied the campus and when the Iraqi army recaptured months later and turned it into a base, the radical group made the place the target of its daily attacks.

Not much of the ruin is visible now, though some buildings are still partly destroyed and others show bullet holes and bomb scars. Most have been reconstructed, repaired, cleaned and painted.
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Take religion off Identity Cards: leave a blank

Years ago, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the Netherlands very proudly showed me one of the changes he had made during his term: the application form for a visa for the small Gulf state no longer asked to state your religion.

I hardly realised then how extra-ordinary his move was, as I was so used to our European passports not disclosing a person’s believes, as a result of the separation between state and religion.

Since then, I have filled in many application forms for visa in the Middle East that did ask for that information. And when I went to live in the Kurdistan Region, it also was a question I got asked by officials filling in my registration papers that led to my residency permit.

In a predominantly Muslim country it’s not an option to say you do not have a religion. If you are not Muslim, then you must by Christian, is the automatic assumption for a Westerner.
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In Baghdad it’s not all the smoke of bombs, drifting is catching on, too

It’s five o’clock on a Friday afternoon in the Baghdad area of Zeyouna, and it’s racing time. In a city that sees almost daily bombings, weekly rallies of fast cars still attract crowds of mostly young men.


“We love cars,” says one of them, hanging about with drivers of BMWs, Challengers, Infinitis and even Mustangs, all showing the capabilities of their cars.


The smoke rises high into the sky behind the mosque where the rodeo-ground is situated and the smell of burned rubber is thick in the air. Tires shriek and smoke, while engines roar and bits of rubber fly around, when drivers drift their cars on their pumped-up front tires.


With the black humour that Baghdadis are known for, they call this ‘executions’, and the cars used are mainly fast ones that have been adapted for the races but are also still driven around the town.


And there, they attract much attention as some drivers like it to be known by revving their engines and making smoky turns and stops, that once a week they are real racing car drivers.
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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Life goes on in Baghdad mindless of government and bombing threats

The world hardly notices it anymore, but daily bombs still explode in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Only when the number of casualties is high the attack gets mentioned; like the three explosions that recently caused over a hundred deaths in different parts of the city.

Not only has the international media gotten used to the violence in Iraq, Iraqis themselves too leave their homes daily and go about their business, almost as if they want to block out the reality of the dangers that engulf them.

While in Europe every bomb attack shakes a whole nation, and even those around it, leading to people making monuments with flowers and toys for the victims, in Baghdad traders and civilians go back to the targeted market as soon as the blood is washed away.

In Europe the media give the victims names and faces, while in Baghdad only the exceptional ones get some attention. Even though they are labelled as martyrs, and should therefore be revered, most are soon forgotten in the news of the next attack.

When I was in Baghdad recently people complained about this, as they expected the government not only to do more to remember their beloved ones, but also to prevent the attacks.
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What’s a sofa, compared to the real damage done?

Pictures of people looking worriedly at sofas have been going viral on the Internet in Iraq. A man looking at an orange three-seater, a girl at a brown canapĂ© – all poking fun at the pictures that Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi posted after demonstrators stormed the Green Zone in Baghdad.

About 100,000 people breached the walls around Baghdad’s most secured area which houses the national parliament, Prime Minister Abadi’s office, foreign embassies, the homes of high officials and some hotels.

The protesters demanded that the parliament would finally make the change possible they had been calling to combat corruption and nepotism, and approve a cabinet of technocrats.

But members of parliament were not in favour of the change, as it would decrease the power of the parties and the flow of money into their pockets.
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Holocaust remembered in Kurdistan for the first time

In a historic ceremony in the Kurdistan capital Erbil, Kurds with Jewish roots together with Kurdish officials and foreign dignitaries remembered for the first time in the Kurdistan Region the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.

The first Jewish Remembrance Day for Victims of the Holocaust in Kurdistan was organised by the Jewish representative in the Kurdistan Ministry of Religion, Sherzad Mamsani, who also led the ceremony.

The event ended with the lighting of six candles, one for every million Jews killed by the Nazi regime in the 30s and 40s of the last century. A minute of silence was also observed.
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