New life in Mosul as scars of IS rule begin to fade

Even before the Islamic State group took over her home city of Mosul, Iraqi 31-year-old Nesrine never imagined she would have a job working late into the evening at a fashion boutique. 

But now, in districts of Iraq's second city not left totally devastated by the ferocious fighting to oust the jihadists, life is buzzing again -- with more vibrancy than ever. 

"We have experienced depression, hunger, ruin and oppression. It is a miracle that we are still alive," Nesrine said. 

"We went through a long nightmare and now we have woken up transformed." Nesrine is employed at a gleaming new clothing shop that has opened up on the east bank of the river Tigris -- liberated from IS months before the group's final defeat in western districts six months ago -- selling skinny jeans and colourful tops from Turkey. 

As pop music blares from loud speakers, she works alongside male colleagues advising customers lured in during a late-evening stroll by images of fashion models. In the shop window, a mannequin wearing an above-the-knee skirt is on display. 


Mosul has long had a reputation as a bedrock of conservatism and became a hub for Sunni jihadists after the US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003. 

But when IS seized control as it swept across northern Iraq in 2014 the group imposed a radical interpretation of Islamic law far more severe than anything residents had known before. "If a boy and a girl were discovered together then they risked being executed," said Rahma, 21. 

Now Mosul University where she studies English is busy with groups of boys with gelled up hair and girls wearing colourful headscarves. Even before the arrival of IS it was "unimaginable" for girls to get a job outside the home working alongside men, unless it was in a staid public administration office, she said. 

'Lost in a desert' 

Ziad Dabbagh has just opened up a restaurant to give people somewhere else to go in the commercial neighbourhood of al-Zuhur. "People in Mosul used to go to other provinces of Iraq to go out," the entrepeneur said. 

Families dine and young men sip tea on the terraces and in the dining hall. "It was as if we were lost in the middle of a desert, cut off from everything," said Roua al-Malah, 34, who was out with her family. 

"And now all at once we have rediscovered that we can have a good time." Behind a green glass door men sip brightly coloured fruit juice in the neighbouring building as they play cards and billiards amid a cloud of smoke from hookah pipes. 

Owner Mazen Aziz opened up in May even as fierce fighting was still raging across the river in Mosul's Old City, which is still a deserted ghost town today. His billiard club with its smoking, card playing and loud music would have been a prime target for the jihadists who dominated the city for a decade. 

"For years in Mosul, after six in the evening there was no one in the streets. Now I can head home at two or three in the morning without fear," he said. "A new life is beginning."


Born under ISIS, #IraqiChildren are struggling

In many ways Yakeen is like any toddler. It’s December, and she’s approaching her second birthday. Her cheeks flushed a rosy red by the winter chill, she clings to her mother’s long skirt. 

But unlike most two year olds she has spent most of her life living under ISIS in west Mosul, along with her two sisters, Rama, 3 and Hiba, 4. 

The girls’ early years were vastly different from how their parents had imagined. ISIS dictated every aspect of life for this family and for the 1.5 million people who endured three years of its harsh rule in the northern Iraqi city. 

Yakeen’s father, Sadoun, wasn’t able to work and the family survived off the little he made selling water in the street. They spent almost all of their time at home, afraid to leave. 

When the battle to rid Mosul of ISIS drew near their home in the Old City, they fled across the Tigris river to the east with little more than the clothes on their backs. Like thousands of others, their house was destroyed in the fighting. 

An ISIS-issued birth certificate 

“Under ISIS everyone was sick. There wasn’t enough medical care,” recalls 31-year-old Sadoun. When Yakeen was born her mother, Huda, had to have a caesarean operation: “It was very difficult—I was so scared,” Huda says. 

“There were no medicines or drugs to help me, and we had to pay a lot even for just basic care.” Luckily, Yakeen arrived safely. For Yakeen, this meant that she was unable to access check-ups or other medical care after ISIS was pushed out of Mosul. 

Today the thousands of documents that were issued by ISIS are no longer recognized. Along with birth certificates, ISIS issued marriage certificates, death certificates and the other vital identification documents needed to access basic, essential services such as education and pensions, and to move through checkpoints. 

Having these documents is vital for Mosul’s residents to restart and rebuild their lives, but it is estimated that half of all displaced Iraqis have had some documentation lost or stolen, or invalidated because it was issued by ISIS. 

Getting new documents is complicated, and—unable to afford legal support—many people have trouble navigating the process alone. That’s why the International Rescue Committee’s legal team is working with thousands of families like Yakeen’s across Iraq to help them to get the new documents they need. 

“The IRC team went with us to the department that issues certificates, which is in a hospital, and finally we managed to get the new papers.” Sadoun says. “With the birth certificates our kids can get food rations and medical care.” “After months of waiting the kids finally got their vaccinations which they missed out on under ISIS,” he explains. 

“When we got the certificates, it felt great. They help to ensure the rights of the children.” “When people first hear ‘humanitarian aid’ they might think about organizations handing out food or tents,” says Wendy Taeuber, the IRC’s Iraq country director. 

“However, for those who have been displaced from their homes for months, or even years, there is a good chance people will have lost essential documentation needed to access welfare, health care, to travel freely, and even send children to school.” 

Challenges ahead 

The house Yakeen’s family lives in in east Mosul with her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, is cramped and falling into disrepair in places. “I have no money. My neighbors here gave me everything that we have,” says Sadoun. 

“They gave me these mattresses to sit and sleep on. Between the three families we pay 115,000 Iraqi Dinar (£70) a month for the rent. We don’t have any electricity or running water.” There is glass missing from the windows. 

Without adequate heating the young girls will suffer during the winter. Unable to afford to rebuild their destroyed home, the family is hoping to put down roots in east Mosul. “I hope we stay here for a long time because we don’t have a house to go back to,” says Sadoun. 

Today the family is doing their best to give their children what they need. In the doorway of one of the rooms there is a swing which the cousins line up to take their turn. One step at a time, Sadoun and Huda are working to give Yakeen and her sisters the happy childhood they deserve. 

Supported by the European Commission’s Humanitarian aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the International Rescue Committee works across Iraq providing relief supplies, education support, protection services, and emergency financial assistance to displaced Iraqis, Syrian refugees, and vulnerable locals. 

by Jess Wanless


UN: Half of Iraq's displaced are #IraqiChildren

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says children account for nearly half the 2.6 million Iraqis who have been displaced since three years ago, when the Daesh Takfiri terrorists began a deadly campaign. 

Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s chief representative in Iraq, said on Friday that 1.3 million children had been displaced. Daesh began the campaign in Iraq in 2014, overrunning territory and brutalising people. 

The Iraqi army and volunteer forces soon launched operations to eliminate the terrorist group. Victory was declared on December 9, 2017. But pockets of Daesh and potential sleeper cells remain in Iraq. 

“We believe that as a result of the conflict, a lack of investment over the years, and the poverty … that there are 4 million children now in need across Iraq,” Hawkins told a news briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, by telephone from Baghdad. 

“While the fighting has come to an end in several areas, spikes of violence continue in others, just this week, three bombings went off in Baghdad,” UNICEF’s Regional Director Geert Cappelaere said in a statement. 

“Violence is not only killing and maiming children; it is destroying schools, hospitals, homes and roads. It is tearing apart the diverse social fabric and the culture of tolerance that hold communities together,” he added. 

Hawkins said the UN agency was also helping the children of the detained people who allegedly worked with Daesh by providing comfort and legal aid. He said that UNICEF was trying to reunite those children who were separated from their families, including those abroad.


#IraqElections: Post-Daesh reconstruction challenges in Iraq

Iraq’s efforts to rebuild cities destroyed by the war against Islamic State (IS) group militants will receive significant international attention next month as representatives from some 70 countries and international organisations gather in Kuwait to launch post-conflict reconstruction plans. 

But whether the rebuilding will promote deep changes in the way things are done in this graft-ridden and politically and ethnically divided nation rests largely on whether the reconstruction efforts sink into Iraq’s swamp of corrupt bureaucrats and incompetent politicians. 

Iraq’s previous reconstruction efforts following the US-led invasion in 2003 began with billions of dollars and high hopes and ended in abysmal failure mired in graft, fraud and mismanagement. Kuwait has said it will host an international conference on reconstruction in the parts of Iraq devastated by the war against IS. 

Donor countries and international organisations are expected to announce a package of financial contributions at the meeting to be held from 12 to 14 February. Hard-hit by sharp drops in oil prices, Iraq is seeking external support to repair the economic and infrastructure damage caused by battles with IS insurgents. 

The government has announced that it needs $100 billion to reconstruct the conflict-affected areas over a ten-year period. Iraqi Minister of Planning Salman Al-Jumaili has said the government has adopted a two-phase reconstruction plan. 

The first is set to begin in 2018 and end in 2022, and the second is set for the period between 2022 and 2028. The Iraqi government has said in a statement that funding for the reconstruction will come largely from the United Nations, foreign organisations, international loans, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the private sector. 

The government has not provided detailed accounts of the financial losses to Iraqi infrastructure inflicted by the war on IS, but it estimates the cost of reconstruction and rehabilitation of damaged cities to be $100 billion. 

Some 200 urban centres in Iraq are believed to have been affected by the war. 

Some aid agencies have estimated that military operations in the country since 2014 have resulted in damage to between 30 to 90 per cent of areas in the war-torn cities, depending on the severity of battles. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi, who declared “final victory” in December marking the end of IS in the country’s major cities, said his government would now focus on rebuilding areas devastated by the war, largely seen as vital for political stability and national reconciliation. 

On the humanitarian level, the battles for the cities have taken a heavy toll on some five million civilians who have lost their homes and been displaced or trapped in neighbourhoods that have been destroyed or severely damaged by fighting. 

Ahead of the donors’ meeting, foreign governments and development agencies have pledged funding to help Iraq in rebuilding, but the aid promises fall short of Iraq’s declared needs for its reconstruction programme. 

Various reports have suggested that the United Nations has budgeted $1 billion for the stabilisation of Iraqi cities regained from IS. The World Bank has reportedly approved a $400 million financial assistance package to support the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of priority infrastructure and restore the delivery of public services in areas of Iraq newly liberated from IS. 

The United States has announced that it will double its reconstruction and stabilisation aid to the Iraqi government in 2018 to $150 million. The European Union has signed an agreement with Iraq to provide 60.4 million euros “to restore stability” in the country and to begin reconstruction of areas liberated from IS. 

Another agreement, worth 50.4 million euros, is intended to contribute to the “restoration of basic services and public infrastructure, as well as economic life by providing financial assistance to small business.” 

Several other countries have made pledges to provide millions of dollars in financial aid to support displaced persons in Iraq and promote stability in the country over the next few years. Iraqis are eager to see the outcome of the Kuwait conference, but media reports have quoted officials as saying that Kuwait expects to gather only $18 billion, or a small fraction of the required funding. 

Iraq needs reconstruction projects in several key sectors, primarily water and electricity supplies, health, transport and municipal services, education, agriculture and other urban service needs of communities in the recaptured areas. 

Given Iraq’s record of corruption and government incompetence, many in Iraq and the international community believe it is of the utmost importance that clear principles be established for the provision of aid for reconstruction. One key concern is that the government has failed to lay out comprehensive plans for the reconstruction of the liberated territories. 

Much more detailed work is needed to develop proper plans for each city. Al-Abadi, meanwhile, is accused of paying lip service to the reconstruction and reconciliation with the country’s Sunnis. Critics say he is showing little haste in making the war-damaged cities habitable once more. 

Reconstruction in most of the newly liberated cities such as Mosul, Fallujah, Baiji and Hawja is being either neglected or is proceeding slowly, hampering the return of hundreds of thousands of their displaced populations. 

Critics say the issue is not all about the money needed to rebuild the Iraqi cities and how much the international community will promise to help, but could be due to Iraq’s politics, which remain in disarray. Iraq is preparing for general elections in May, and politicians are eager to see aid money directed towards their constituents. 

While efforts are needed to apportion aid between the country’s various needs, Shia groups are trying to muster support for their candidates by promising to allocate some international funding to their areas. 

The Shia-dominated Iraqi parliament last week endorsed a resolution sponsored by Shia members to allocate money for the reconstruction of the southern port city of Basra which they say was badly “affected by Saddam’s wars.” 

Another problem is that the government will need to assure donors of its commitment to transparency and that political divisions and bureaucracy will not hamper efforts to rebuild on a sufficient scale and speed. 

A longer-term policy challenge is the provision of finance through provincial and local governments, which remains inadequately addressed. Fears are high about aid money being used to buy favours to influence local politics, hampering reconstruction efforts. 

Whether the reconstruction efforts promote deep changes in the way things are done in Iraq rests largely on the central government’s powers of leadership, efficiency and transparency. Scepticism abounds that the government will make sure that the aid money ends up where it is supposed to. 

Corruption, misuse, fraud, theft and kickbacks are rampant, and the government will need to work closely with the aid agencies in order to ensure that money donated is not stolen. Any failure to fix these problems will be detrimental to the reconstruction efforts. 

The government needs to show the country’s Sunni Arabs that they have a stake in Iraq’s future, when any failure to rebuild their cities could be very consequential, including the return of IS militants. 

by Salah Nasrawi


#EuropeanArabs have a distinct view of the region

Like many children of Arab descent in 1990s Europe, I grew up with Al-Jazeera TV and Arab entertainment and cooking programmes. They were practically the background music at home. It was the age before tablets and smartphones. 

I loved hearing different versions of spoken Arabic.

The images that shaped my views of the Middle East and North Africa region were largely male and overwhelmingly violent — bombings, corpses, rivers of blood on the streets, executions — but also domestic violence and many scenes of shouting people in films. 

Until my early 20s, I did not realise the cumulative effect of those experiences on my perceptions and I lived almost like a carefree European. Then, as an Erasmus Programme exchange student in the Netherlands in December 2010, I saw the Arab world aflame on Facebook. 

The images on my computer screen made me realise that I was unprepared — despite those childhood images — for a messy groundswell for change. Growing up in Belgium, despite those childhood on-screen encounters with the Arab world, I was unprepared for a movement that appeared to have bubbled up from the bottom. 

The memories resurfaced during the Arab Conference at Harvard last November. It was billed as the largest pan-Arab conference in North America and it brought together approximately 1,300 students and professionals to discuss issues with the region’s most prominent politicians, business people and civil society leaders. 

The 2017 conference aimed, as its organisers said, to combat the “reductive imagination surrounding the Arab world that diminishes it to a geography of violence and failure.” At my session, many people about my age asked why I was leading a project to build an app for Arab youth. I sensed various levels of emotion across the spectrum of hope. 

As an entrepreneur, I understand the essence of action and I believe optimism is probably the biggest call to action. To serve fellow Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa region, I chose optimism to perceive the possible. Change, like death, is a certainty. It is bound to happen. It might be wise to manage it. 

Entrepreneurs build on the hope that people will leverage new realities once they become aware of the possibilities. I’m not a fan of the word “empowerment” because it focuses too much on external agency and yet I firmly believe that people make their own decisions to invest time and attention on ideas and products that fill a gap. 

The need for digital Arabic content is societal. It will help diversify our economies and it is key to building a knowledge economy. It is also a way to feed the hunger for information among the increasingly restless and mobile millennial generation. 

My recent travels throughout the region showed the depth of the desire in young people for information that’s relevant to their reality and that can also be transformational with respect to their reality. As a European Arab, born and bred in Belgium, I am conscious of the advantages I’ve had. I’ve had the freedom to know, to act and to decide. 

This must be leveraged and shared with other young Arabs, in the Arab world and beyond. A community can only grow and prosper by determining how it thinks of itself, how it wants to think of itself and how it wants to be seen. There is no reason for the Arab world not to aim to be the best. 

Khadija Hamouchi, a social entrepreneur, is founder of SEJAAL, an initiative that is building an app for young people. She has received six international awards, including Stanford Business and Innovation Fellow, Morocco’s African Entrepreneurship Award and San Francisco’s Parisoma Accelerator Programme.


#IraqiChildren: Four million impacted by conflict, poverty

More than four million children have been impacted by extreme violence in Iraq, many robbed of their childhood and forced to fight on the front-lines, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Friday. 

“Last year alone, 270 children were killed,” said UNICEF Regional Director Geert Cappelaere following a recent visit. 

“Some will bear the physical and psychological scars for life due to exposure to unprecedented brutality,” he added, pointing out that over one million children were forced to leave their homes. 

Today, Iraq hosts one of UNICEF’s largest operations in the world, responding with humanitarian and development assistance to the needs of the most vulnerable girls and boys across the country. Violence is not only killing and maiming children; it is destroying schools, hospitals, homes and roads. 

It is tearing apart the diverse social fabric and the culture of tolerance that hold communities together. “In one of the schools that UNICEF recently rehabilitated in the western parts of Mosul, I joined 12-year-old Noor in class. 

She told me how her family stayed in the city even during the peak of the fighting. She spoke of her fear when she was taking shelter. She lost three years of schooling and is now working hard to catch up, learning English with other boys and girls,” said Mr. Cappelaere. 

Poverty and conflict have interrupted the education for three million children across Iraq. Some have never been inside a classroom. Over a quarter of all children in Iraq live in poverty, with children in southern and rural areas most affected over the past decades. 

“As Iraq prepares for elections and the International Summit for Iraq, there is no better moment to prioritise the interests of children, stop the violence and break the cycle of poverty and deprivation,” stressed Mr. Cappelaere. 

UNICEF appealed to authorities in Iraq and the international community to end all forms of violence so children and their families can live in safety and dignity; continue providing humanitarian and recovery assistance, including to those in camps and informal settlements; and massively step up immediate and long-term investments in education. 

“The children of Iraq, like all children around, the world have the right to learn and aspire to a better tomorrow. The children of today are tomorrow’s teachers, doctors, engineers and scientists. Investing in them now is an investment in Iraq’s future,” he underscored. 

The International Summit for Iraq, hosted by Kuwait from 12-14 February, offers an opportunity for Iraq and the international community to strengthen commitments to the country’s children – specifically by increasing budgets allocated to supporting children.

“Member States and the private sector should turn financial pledges into concrete commitments for children. This is fundamental for rebuilding a peaceful and prosperous Iraq away from the vicious cycles of violence and inter-generational poverty,” emphasised Mr. Cappelaere.


#RefugeesWelcome: Giving Syrian women a safe place to give birth

Midwife Abla Ali despaired as she crouched on the floor of the tent. The baby’s shoulder was stuck and the mother had been in labour for hours. Abla had no equipment or extra support, just her bare hands. 

She summoned all her strength and eventually pulled the small baby into the world. The year was 2013 and Abla had just arrived in Domiz Refugee Camp in northern Iraq. She fled Syria with her family when the fighting started in their city. 

A neighbour’s house was bombed and collapsed, killing everyone inside. Abla says they were lucky to be alive but life was hard in the camp. “There were no basic services in the camp - no toilets, no water,” recalls Abla. 

“It was cold and it was raining and it was so hard to look inside a tent and know we had to stay there. We tried to cope with it. One of my sisters cried for a month because she couldn't cope and she wanted to go home, even if it meant she would die in Damascus.” 

Abla had trained as a midwife in Syria and started work in the camp straight away. She helped women give birth in their tents because it was too far to travel to the nearest hospital. Abla says it was manageable until there was a complicated birth. 

“I was always really worried when a woman got into trouble during birth, like when the baby’s shoulder got stuck,” Abla explains. “I just had to try my best with what I had and hope the baby survived. Sometimes after a difficult birth I couldn’t move my hands and arms because of the effort of delivering the baby.”

MSF’s maternity clinic 

A lot has changed since then in Domiz refugee camp, which is home to more than 30,000 Syrian refugees. Life is still hard, but the conditions have improved. 

The tents have been replaced with basic concrete houses clad with iron sheets, makeshift cafes serve steaming plates of Syrian food and carpet shops display their wares on the dusty roads. And women no longer give birth on the floor of their tents. 

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) built a maternity clinic where women from the camp can safely deliver their babies and access care before and after they give birth. Twenty-nine-year-old Shorash was the first mother to deliver at the clinic. 

She gave the midwives who delivered her baby the honour of choosing the baby’s name: Isla. Since then, Shorash has also given birth to baby Shifa at the facility. “I heard about the maternity unit from my neighbours and someone from MSF visited us and informed us there would be a new unit,” Shorash says. 

“The services here are really good and they take care of us.” “They visited me and did tests and monitoring before and during and after delivery. It was important for me because I wanted to know the baby was OK. The most important thing about the maternity centre is that everything is free and we would rather come here than go elsewhere and pay money.” 

A full package of care 

Over the past four years, MSF medical staff have delivered more than 3,400 babies and provided more than 27,400 gynaecological consultations. Abla started working at the clinic first as a midwife, and then as a sexual reproductive health supervisor. 

She’s also just given birth to her own baby at the clinic. “We provide a good service for women - the full package of care from the beginning of the pregnancy until the after the birth,” she says. “Women feel more comfortable here because the staff are from the camp and the staff are Syrian. We also have a good collaboration with the Dohuk Directorate of Health who provide vaccinations at the clinic.” 

“It was a little embarrassing coming here for the birth of my baby,” Abla says with a laugh. “But it's clean and I trust the staff and I know it's safe.” “The best part of being a midwife is the appreciation from the mothers. They stop me in the camp when I pass and they say to their children: ‘This is Abla, she’s a good midwife and she delivered you.’”


#IraqElections: The Mosul Men Finding Political Freedom In Their Liberated City

From the moment that the guns were silenced in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, some young locals have been doing voluntary work, trying to rebuild the city and their lives after three years ruled by the extremist group known as the Islamic State. 

Now they are taking an even more courageous step: They are starting to get into local politics. Recently in a forested neighbourhood in Mosul, around 150 young men gathered in a hall surrounded by eucalyptus trees. It was not a picnic nor a party but a political forum organized by the young men of Mosul themselves. 

A platform had been set up for speakers and several young men, in formal suits and ties, gave speeches. There were no old men in the crowd, no grey hair. One of the speakers was particularly notable. Ali Ajwan is a lecturer in international relations at the University of Bayan in Erbil and he offered himself as a candidate for the position of governor of Ninawa, the province of which Mosul is the capital. 

“The opportunity for young people to take up posts in politics in Mosul is ripe,” Ajwan said, as he paced back and forth on the stage. “Especially after the positive experiences of the voluntary work that was done after Mosul was liberated. The youth have been able to bring back life to the city, where the government has failed.” 

It is true that the young people of Mosul remain frustrated about the way that the central government has dealt with the city after the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group was pushed out. But what makes them even more comfortable with the thought of entering politics is the fact that the situation in the city is more secure now for politicians, than it has been in years. 

Before the IS group took control of Mosul, their forerunner, Al Qaeda in Iraq, made life dangerous in the city. Now it feels to many of the young men as though neither extremist organization is overtly present here anymore. This gives a new sense of freedom; people feel as though they can move around without fear of assassination or abduction. 

That is why more young people are wanting to take a political stand, Ajwan explains on stage. General elections are due to be held in Iraq on May 12 and there are just over 200 political parties registered to compete in them. This makes the small gathering in Mosul feel like a drop in the ocean. 

“When I found out that many more young people were motivated to participate in elections, I decided to start a new forum on Facebook,” says Omar al-Salim, a 31-year-old local, who is the initiator of the Ninawa Youth Political Forum. “We have established a code of ethics that all of the young candidates planning to run in future elections must sign,” he told NIQASH. 

Al-Salim says they are starting small but he can imagine that, by the next elections, the Forum could even have become a political party in its own right, or perhaps a lobby group of some kind. “We don’t need the same slogans that we keep hearing repeated by our politicians,” says Fahad al-Yousef, another young activist who plans to stand for office in the upcoming elections. 

“They have become consumer goods made for campaigning. Instead we want to talk about reality and to be ready to take practical steps that can bring a positive change to Iraqi society.” For al-Yousef the meeting had made him feel particularly optimistic. “It is just wonderful that we have gone beyond writing comments on Facebook, and beyond just being critical of the existing administration,” he enthused. 

“This is the first practical step toward the change many young people in this province want to see.” The would-be politicians are well aware of their weaknesses, especially when compared to the big budgets and the experience that many of their older competitors in the upcoming elections bring. “We are weak and we don’t have the funds or the experience,” Ajwan told his audience. 

“But we will become strong.” Currently the best known political parties in Ninawa are two Sunni Muslim-led parties, one headed by the al-Nujaifi brothers and another led by former Iraqi defence minister, Khaled al-Obeidi. Then there are also the two major Iraqi Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. 

The young men at this hopeful meeting will most likely choose one of these larger blocs to campaign with. After the meeting finished, Ajwan and the other aspiring MPs gathered some donations from attendees and then stood together for a picture before they all went their separate ways. The young men smiled and flashed victory signs. They felt sure this was a historic moment worth recording.


Turkish Red Crescent helps Iraq’s displaced Turkmen

The Turkish Red Crescent humanitarian agency on Thursday distributed emergency aid to Iraqi refugees who had fled from Iraq’s predominantly-Turkmen city of Tal Afar to the nearby Kirkuk province. 

Goksen Yedigul, the Turkish Red Crescent's Iraq coordinator, told Anadolu Agency that winter clothing had been distributed to some 700 refugees in Kirkuk’s Yahyava refugee camp. 

Along with heavy winter clothing and blankets, the aid deliveries also included shoes and jackets for children, Yedigul said. In a statement issued shortly afterward, Ali Mehdi, a spokesman for the Iraqi Turkmen Front, voiced his appreciation for the Turkish largesse. “Turkey has helped us for years. Turkish relief agencies continue to provide full support to Iraqi refugees,” he said. 

One butcher from Tal Afar, who preferred not to give his name, said: “We can only survive with the Red Crescent's help. All of us benefit from the aid sent by Turkish relief agencies.” 

By Ali Mukarrem Garip


#IraqiChristians: On Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, a ten-year-old dares to dream

Ten-year old Helda Khalid Jacob Hindi, a fifth-grader, is not at a loss for words. She is passionate about her life, her future, and that of her loved ones. 

Helda and her family—mom, dad and a younger brother—recently moved back to Qaraqosh on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains after spending three years in exile in Kurdistan. 

She remembers vividly the night of Aug. 6, 2014, when ISIS overran her town and Christian families had to flee overnight. 

She says: “Alarm bells rang out in our streets – we had to escape the living hell of violence and terrorism. I went along, crying, with no hope of ever returning to my town, my school; with no hope of ever seeing my friends again. We had no idea how long we would be displaced from our beloved city. The days passed and we lived in torment and tragedy until we got used to it.” 

Eventually a new school was built for displaced children and Helda and her family began a new life. She remembers: “I was sad, clinging to hope of returning to my old school; but I made new friends. And today, by God’s grace, we have returned to our town and I am back in my old school among my old friends.” 

Life in exile has been hard, perhaps particularly for a proud girl like Helda, who says: “we felt humiliated when we were receiving humanitarian aid, because we didn’t think that the day would come when we would become like beggars, oppressed people, with no power or strength.” 

“We had only God and we never stopped believing in his power and his mercy for all those hurting in Iraq and around the world. Whenever we approach him in prayer and faith, we feel joy and confidence without end. 

My family, friends and relatives never felt that God was far away from us. As far as I can see into the past, God has been with me always. God is with me everywhere and I make sure to always keep nearby some pictures of Jesus Christ and a Bible.” 

Helda proclaims she has her own ideas about her country. 

She explains: “Sometimes I want to stay in Iraq because it is my home, my beloved country. Sometimes I want to leave, especially when I see photographs and videos of terrorism striking innocent civilians. My heart cannot bear those horrifying scenes, but when I feel scared, I ask God to save me.” 

“Frankly I'm not really sure about my future here in Iraq. I would want to go abroad with my family if we have to continue suffering war and persecution; how long it will take for us to finally be safe and secure? My message to the West is to do as much as possible to support Christians in Iraq because they are close to extinction. Help us. Have compassion, and you will be rewarded by the one who is in heaven.” 

“Stop oppressing poor people. We want stability and peace. Let's work together and pray together for peace and love – for all of us.” Helda insists: “I have a beautiful dream in life. My hobbies are painting, music, singing, and I like acting a lot, but my ambition is – with the help of God – to become a dentist, to serve my community and my country, wherever I may end up living.” 

She adds, however: “I do not know where to start because things are still so unsettled. What will be next for us? It’s so hard to tell right now…” 

Ragheb Elias Karash writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. (USA); (UK); (AUS); (IRL); (CAN) (Malta)


#AMARInsights: Mosul clinic set to open doors

Work is now complete on AMAR’s Bazwaya Primary Health Care Centre on the outskirts of Mosul. When it opens later this month, the clinic will provide vital healthcare to approximately 15,000 people within the immediate catchment area. 

It will become the fifth AMAR clinic to open in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq. Once a multi-faith community, thousands fled Bazwaya to escape the ISIS invasion three and a half years ago. 

Now, families returning to their old homes to rebuild their lives must do so from the rubble left by three years of conflict. They will have few resources and face an increasing threat of disease and infection. As a result of a fantastic fundraising effort by our supporters, AMAR commissioned the rehabilitation of the existing, heavily damaged, government clinic. 

It is now fully equipped and locally-hired medical staff will support a range of units providing vaccinations, ultrasound, a gynaecology department, dental services, maternal and child care, a malnutrition unit, a GP service and a laboratory. 

Following our model of locally-led development, Women Health Volunteers and Community Based Workers have been appointed to promote health awareness within Bazwaya and surrounding villages. 

The campaign includes daily visits to local families and regular lectures encouraging both physical and mental health education. Our volunteers will also play a pivotal role in the Escaping Darkness programme which provides psycho-social care for women and girls kidnapped by ISIS.

by Rachel Addison


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