This is an opinion piece by Jessica Wanless, Senior Communications Manager, Iraq, International Rescue Committee
November 2017 saw a historic moment: the final town controlled by ISIS in Iraq was retaken. As cities begin to recover and rebuild, and physical signs of ISIS are slowly removed, the impact and trauma of ISIS rule remains on the face of Iraq -– and its residents.
In the northern city of Mosul, over 1.5 million people endured over three years of harsh ISIS rule – fully retaken on July 10 after nine months of ferocious fighting. During the battle for the city, houses, roads and schools were destroyed and more a million people were forced to flee their homes. Parents kept their kids out of school and off the streets to stop them from being exposed to violence, women were forced to cover fully – including their eyes, and many families had to survive without an income. Across Iraq more than 11 million people remain in need of humanitarian support.
Today, although the city is now free of ISIS and rebuilding has begun, the years spent under ISIS rule linger in the air. In Mosul’s Old City thousands of homes lay flattened, many still littered with explosives.
The International Rescue Committee is working within the city to support people that experienced great trauma and hardship under ISIS to rebuild their lives. A selection of their stories highlight the ongoing needs facing the people of Mosul.
Sadoun and his young family fled the Old City in west Mosul as the battle raged. “The day we fled we didn’t really believe it – we felt like we were dying.” Their house was destroyed in fighting and today they are renting a house in the east of the city. “We can’t afford the rent, but we can’t afford to rebuild either,” he says.
Sadoun’s story is a familiar one. The Old City saw some of the fiercest urban warfare seen in recent years, over 8,000 homes were destroyed. Many families are unable or unwilling to return and will be displaced for months, even years, to come.
Two of Sadoun’s children were born whilst ISIS controlled Mosul. His wife had cesareans for both children, and was terrified about the prospect of giving birth without access to a fully functioning hospital. Being born under ISIS also meant the children had no birth certificates, so even once ISIS was driven out of Mosul they couldn’t access health care. IRC helped the family through the legal process, and today they have their documents. Finally they have had the vaccinations they missed out on under ISIS.
Muthana from east Mosul was married eight months into ISIS’ rule of the city. “On our wedding day, we played music to celebrate at the party. ISIS arrested me because music was banned. It wasn’t exactly how I imagined my marriage would begin.” Today, his wife is pregnant. IRC team’s supported them to get their marriage certificate, without which they would not be able to register their soon-to-be-born child.
After ISIS imposed their curriculum in schools, many parents kept their kids out of the classroom. “They were teaching children to count with bullets,” Harbia, a grandma from east Mosul explains. Today thousands of children, including Farhan [centre], are back learning.
Across the east of the city, shops and markets have reopened. The streets are thronging with activity, and once again classrooms are full. However, IRC’s recent assessment of the labor market in east Mosul found that there is still a long way to go for the economy to rebound. Unemployment is thought to stand at over 50% and after years of financial hardship many are without cash to spend.
Women and the youth are having a particularly difficult time finding their place in the economy. 21-year-old Malka from East Mosul is resitting two years of nursing college as the years she studied under ISIS cannot contribute to her degree.
In east Mosul, IRC has opened safe spaces for women and girls to come together to chat, take part in activities and discuss the issues they are facing. Here they are taking part in a session on the challenges they have at home. Through these spaces women have a place they can come together, something that they could not do under ISIS.
To help people like the ones seen in these photos, donate to the IRC.