Iraqi school girls paddle a small wooden boat across a river, as they head to school.
Photo credits: Tourism in Iraq
Local activists against Islamic State, behind the Facebook page Mosul eye, where they regularly publish news on how the city is ruined IS’s ruling, recently had to close down their activities, due to continuous attacks on their page. They have announced that they will reopen their page and continue to – anonymously – report about the ingoing crimes against humanity from inside Mosul. I want to share their statement here to support the activists:
“For public manners and everyday life, it all can be summed in following bullet points:
ISIL constructed subsidiaries, organizations and departments for everything, and for each manner they set a bureau and appointed staff dedicated for it. the civilians are living under a bloody authority and power. people can not move or breathe, The borders are completely closed, and no one can get out of the city, and dire conditions are applied for anyone wants to leave the city.
And ISIL issued and published these conditions, namely:
1- hand over House mortgage ownership documents,
2- $ 2,500 as a deposit
3- a modern car which is manufactured no further that 2011, and
4- a sponsor who sponsors the traveller, and for a duration of only one month. If the permission expires, the sponsor gets arrested and the house, the car and the deposit are all confiscated, and the traveller is considered to be an apostate infidel and is permitted to be killed on sight.
Kids are subjected to extreme measures of massing and incitement to all the mass murders and criminal operations ISIL leads through its media points that are scattered over the streets, and through exchanging of video clips that depict scenes of slaughter, crucifixion, burning and murder. large numbers of teenagers have been affected by ISIL’s enormous propaganda and amused by its capabilities of violence.
Lots of teens have voluntarily joined ISIL in its various ranks. Recent statistics study showed that the numbers of children volunteered into ISIL’s ranks, who were under the age of 16 years; were amounted to 370 and received religious and military training in ISIL’s camps, more than 130 children who actually participated in the battles and suicide bombings, many of them died mostly in battles for Baiji, Anbar and west of Nineveh.
ISIL imposes new strict and tough restrictions every day upon the citizens, and the last of its restrictions is men are forced to leave their beards unshaved, we already published on this page, about ISIL’s leaflet on the prevention of shaving the beard, and this is especially targeting the youth. As for Women, ISIL is practicing extremely harsh restrictions upon them, things like wearing the veil is a must, prohibiting women from going out alone to the market unless they are accompanied with a male relative as a guardian, and as Ramadan is approaching, women are absolutely banned from leaving their houses. Smoking is banned as well, and penalizing cigarettes vendors started at first with 70 lashes with a big fine, and now the penalty for anyone caught selling or trading cigarettes is “decapitation”!
Food prices constantly rising and will depend on whether the roads are closed with Baghdad and Kurdistan, Baghdad has recently closed the road to Mosul, and prevented the entry of large quantities of goods and foods to Mosul ISIL also imposed severe penalties on those who do not come to the mosque during prayers and closes his shop, and the penalty is confiscation of the shop with large fine and imprisonment for a whole month. Many libraries were closed, and complete banning of trading books that never call them ISIL “infidelity and apostasy books” of Arab and international novels and books of philosophy, history and literature.
In short: There are no sign of life in Mosul, I mean life in which man will be free and able to act freely and easily. The rights to live is guaranteed only by abiding by the conditions and ruthless control of ISIL and any one opposes ISIL is subjecting himself and his family to execution and confiscation of all property.
To be Continued …”
The Kurdish artist Rostam Aghala, whose art I have shared before, has pictured women’s suffering in the hands of the terrorists in Islamic State. He wanted to share it with me for me to share it on my site, for the world to see. Rostam uses the Arabic acronym “Daesh” to name Islamic State.
“Girls under Esideat (Daesh)” by Rostam Aghala
Photo copyright: Rostam Aghala
There’s plenty of resistance to the Islamic State in the Middle East, resistance that deserves far more attention than it gets internationally. One artist in Iraqi Kurdistan, Rostam Aghala, has delivered his response to the terrorists in form of paintings. He let me share his works on my website, and I’m happy to be able and show the world his art.
“Islam and Daesh” (Daesh = Arabic acronym for the Arabic version of Islamic State)
Photo credit: copyright of all paintings, Rostam Aghala
After IS destroying ancient sculptures in the Mosul Museum, cleverly videotaping everything and uploading the demolition online for the world to share and condemn, without reflecting over the fact that we are all a part of IS propaganda machine, without actually putting the means in to stop them, a different kind of response came from Sweden.
The Swedish journalist Somar Al Naher published a photo of her mother who is from Iraq, when she visited Mosul Museum together with a group of girls 43 years ago, with a comment from Somar. Somar gave me the permission to publish this photo and her comment on Sweden and the Middle East Views. Here is what she had to say (translation from Swedish, Sweden and the Middle East Views):
“I have to tell this story and why this is an endless sorrow. This photo was taken exactly 43 years ago outside the Mosul Museum that is now destroyed. In the picture you can see my mom, she is in the middle of the back row, number five from the left. In front of her sits her younger sister. What we see in the picture are girls on a Scout camp. Each summer a number of girls were chosen from schools in Karbala and Najaf, to go on a camp in a new city in Iraq. Several girls come from deeply religious families, some of them had parents who were illiterate. But the trust and the confidence made the families allow their daughters to go on camps in places that were far away from home.
This picture symbolises everything that is about to be destroyed in Iraq: the people, the shared history, the proud heritage but also the development and the future. The girls of this generation would have had the possibility to change the world.”
Photo copyright: Somar Al Naher
Iraq’s first female mayor Ms Thikra Awash was assigned her duties today on February 26, according to the Facebook page بغداد (“Baghdad”). Her position is so far only temporary, according to the news update, since she took over quite swiftly after the former mayor Naim Aboub who was made to leave due to dissatisfaction with his performance. The inauguration is still groundbreaking: it’s Iraq’s first female mayor, to be appointed in the capital, in a time when the IS terrorists are forcing their terrifying misogynist agenda on the regions that they have conquered.
In the ceremony the previous mayor participated, and Ms Awash was welcomed to her new office by the director of the Prime Minster’s office, Mr Mehdi Alallaq, who wished everyone in Baghdad a good cooperation in order to overcome all obstacles and reach the desired goal; which is to him, a service valued by Baghdad and its people.
Ms Awash said in her speech during the ceremony that she will be loyal and honest in handling the public funds, that she opposes any sort of partisanship and that she will not be biased to any clan, party or sectarian group. She said that her work in the initial phase would have two parallel focuses: to provide better services to the people of Baghdad and work on fast addressing the problems of the city, and also, as she stated: “To reinforce the status of the capital, to once again make it a modern city, while maintaining it’s authenticity and history”.
Photo credits: https://www.facebook.com/Baghdad1
With all awful news coming to us from everywhere these days, it’s wonderful to get positive news for once: Iraq appointed their first female mayor for Baghdad, Thikra Alwash (in some news spelled Zekra Alwach), and she is set to take up duties in her office as by today, Sunday February 22. In a country where women are fighting a slow battle against inequalities in many fields, a battle that is constantly facing set-backs due to the domestic conflicts, such an appointment is an important gesture to all of the country’s women. Although women traditionally have held many high political positions in Iraq – both during Saddam Hussein’s regime and after the US invasion – Ms Awash is supposedly the first one to hold the position of being a mayor.
According to Daily Star Lebanon, Ms Awash is a civil engineer by background and was previously the Director General of the Ministry of Higher Education – this is also stated in her Linkedin profile. In Ms Awash’s new role as a mayor she will be dealing directly with the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and will therefore be able to push her agenda, the agenda of the city of Baghdad, on a high level.
Some voices today criticised Ms Awash’s lack of political experience, and the fact that her predecessor Naim Aboub was removed by the prime minister in the blink of an eye. But still so, the choice of a female mayor in a time when dangerous, backwards powers are threatening the country of Iraq, is a brave and forward one. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed for Ms Awash and what the future holds for her, as well as her fellow Iraqi sisters.
Photo credit: Twitter @
“I am now officially a doctor. Can you write about my doctorate?” Nawar Al Saadi wrote to me the other day, sending over a link from his graduation ceremony.
Nawar is in charge of the popular Tourism in Iraq Facebookpage that I have written about previously. His enthusiasm and love for his country touched many: the blog post has been shared over 300 times on Facebook and other Iraqis got in touch with me after reading the post.
When I first spoke with Nawar he was still a PhD student in Bucharest, Romania, specializing in tourism, hoping to be a part of the future tourism industry in Iraq. He wanted to return to Iraq despite having family living in Sweden – he had a burning desire to show the world another country than what usually features in Western media, and to be a part of it’s future. And he seems to do well, the Facebookpage has over 31.000 followers and is regularly updating with positive news from Iraq and conciliatory messages for a united country. During the ISIS first attacks on Mosul and the mass escape, Nawar published photos of Iraqis in other cities handing out food and water to the newly arrived refugees on the streets.
Six months later Nawar has now received his doctorate degree and is officially a doctor from Faculty of Geography, University of Bucharest, with his doctoral thesis called “The role of international relations in the development of the tourism sector – case study of Iraq“. In the graduation ceremony one of his teachers praises Nawar and points out that their best students are always coming from outside of Romania.
But other things have changed too – ISIS has taken over large strategic parts of Northern Iraq and has at times also threatened Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil. In the video from his doctoral ceremony Nawar is thanked by his professors and applauded when receiving his diploma. Dressed up and handsome in a suit and smart glasses, he holds a speech and makes a point of addressing exile Iraqis.
“For all Iraqi people living outside Iraq: we need really to work and we need really to study more. We have to make much effort because we have to change the image which is put by media about Iraq. We are not bad people, we are not terrorists as all the world thought. And I hope to see my country…”
Suddenly his voice breaks. It takes him a few moment before he can finish.
“…and I dream to see my country again to receive people from all over the world.”
When his speech ends, he rubs the tears out of his eyes as people in the room comes up to hug him.
Will his wishes about Iraq come through? Will he be able to return and pursue his dream? I don’t know, but I wish the best for Nawar whatever will happen. I haven’t met him in person yet, but I know Iraq needs him.
The ambassador for Iraq’s embassy in Bucharest was so impressed by Nawar after reading this and the previous article about Tourism in Iraq on Sweden and the Middle East Views, that he invited Nawar over the the embassy to give him an award for his achievements for his Iraq on October 15, 2014:
Photo and video copyright: Nawar Al Saadi
When Sahab Saheb started her therapy service Authentic Dialogues she had decided that she wanted to offer counseling in three languages: Swedish, Arabic and English. At 32 years old with a master’s degree in social work and sexology, she wanted to offer her counseling services to such a wide range of clients as possible.
“There’s a challenge in working in different languages,” she says. “But I wanted to use my full potential.”
I wanted to write about Sahab not only because of her interesting character as a Swedish-Iraqi woman, but also since her approach to counseling seemed different. According to her, psychological counseling should be accessible and of low cost. Based in Malmö, Sweden, she also offers counseling via Skype, and on her website, under description of fees, it states: “Fee reductions are available for people on low incomes and this can be negotiated on an individual basis”.
The aspect of wanting to reach out to the many Arabic speaking people in Sweden is not a coincidence. In her master thesis Sahab researched an integration project for Arab immigrants, where she examined factors that determined the effectiveness of the program. The thesis published this year and is titled “Transformation of newcomers, responsibilities and consequences. An evaluation of the project ‘Newcomers, Shortest path’” (Malmö University, Faculty of Health and Society, Department of Social Work). The research gave her new insights in the world of social work and psychological assistance. Through the research she met many immigrants who tried to integrate themselves in Sweden and learned about the challenges they faced.
“The most important aspect is the gap between the experience from the home country and Sweden. The main difference between the two countries is the role that the state plays. People from the Middle East, Syria for example, come from a society where the state has a very negative reputation. People associate the state with fear and betrayal, and it’s not responsible for the individual’s welfare and personal development. Here in Sweden, the state is in charge of everything and a lot of mistrust is going on (from the newly arrived immigrants, my comment) that the Swedish authorities have no clue about.”
In contrast with some other Western countries, where immigrants that have received asylum are left on their own to find housing and work, sometimes with help from voluntary organizations, Swedish authorities offer a roof-over-the-head-guarantee and financial assistance until the person is able to provide for him. However, the choices of where to live or what to do (financial assistance requires the person to take part of mandatory Swedish classes or work programs in return) become reduced to a minimum when being dependent on the system, which many are until they have learned enough Swedish to manage on their own.
Having seen the clash between the Swedish society and the newly arrived immigrants and how the society sometimes fails to help people who suffer from traumas and psychological illnesses, Sahab wanted to create her own service instead of being part of the system.
“The professionalism of the Swedish bureaucracy has a distanced approach to people, and this approach is by many immigrants perceived as something personal against them, it becomes the only thing that the immigrant experience during the first years in Sweden. Even if we have to carry out the integration aspect through the institutions, since this is the way it works in Sweden, we have to implement more of a personal reception since these persons come from a society where there are stronger bonds between people. We shouldn’t dehumanize people the way the system sometimes does now.”
Still, the failures of the system served as an incentive for her to contribute with what she believed would be the best way to help people with psychological problems from experiences of war and terror.
“Instead of being bitter over the fact that I can’t implement what I think is right, I wanted to start my own thing to help people in a way that I believe in”, she says. “If we learn how to be more empathetic we’ll have better dialogues and a stronger society.”
The therapy Sahab offers is based on the existential humanistic psychology, which she says pays respect to people’s own inner potential and responsibility for their actions.
“I wanted to work with counselling that derives from an equal dialogue between the therapist and the patient. I believe that an illness in the society is that we don’t communicate between each other. I believe that this therapy is very helpful since you can carry it with you the whole life and apply it to new relationships. In the therapy you help people to have more confidence in themselves so that they can take more initiative and thereby enhance their own self-esteem.”
She emphasizes that it’s still important not to see people as solely traumatized and damaged individuals, since people have a lot to offer that you can encourage and build on.
“You also have to be very careful in how you create a dialogue with people who come from traumatized societies,” she says. “This therapy is non-directive, there is no right or wrong, it’s up to the client how he or she thinks. I believe this is very important in a multi-cultural society where people have different values. This will create less guilt and insecurity.”
I ask her how she deals with people that might have twisted or reversed values as they come from countries where war or a repressive state have been prevailing for so long that it affects the persons and their personal values. What does she say to them if they have internalized what they have seen and for example believe that violence is justified?
“Even if I tell this person that this and that is wrong it won’t help him if he doesn’t realize this himself. We need to understand why the person has chosen to believe in this, because it’s a defense mechanism. And the less we use our defense mechanisms, the more we get out of life.”
“I believe in this small effect. If we help one person, we will also help many others that will exist down that person’s road.”
So what is her dream with her service, which she recently started earlier this year? She laughs when I ask the question.
“I don’t believe that much in dreams, I believe in being present in the moment and enjoy that. I try not to be too much in the future, my challenge right now is to be able to assist people in need of help. And well… maybe sometime in the future I’ll be able to work together with other people, who want to work in the same way I do.”
Photo copyright: Sahab Saber
To get in touch with Sahab please visit her website: authenticdialogues.com
A Facebookpage that I follow is dedicated to show the world the old Iraq and regularly posts photos of a country many didn’t know exists. This is how the Rare Iraqi Pics page describes itself:
“Nostalgia is the only balm when we grow older… We miss our beginning as we approach the end.”
The page is popular, it has almost 40.000 followers, but the updates and descriptions are done in Arabic so many Westerners might not come across the page so easily. Therefore I decided to write about the page and share some of their photos with translations in English, with you.
Eid in Mosul, Northern Iraq, one of the cities now under control of ISIS, 1976
Tigris river, Baghdad. Year is unknown but the card is printed in 1955
Seta Hagopian, Armenian-Iraqi singer, the photo is probably from early 1970s. Seta Hagopian was one of the first singers to combine old Iraqi songs with Western instruments. She’s still active and lives in Qatar and Canada since the late 1990s. You can find her MySpace page here.
Fashion shoot in the marshes, a wetland area in Southern Iraq, 1974
Photo credits: Rare Iraqi Pics Facebook community