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IRIN - Iraq


The uncertain future of the Kurdish people

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 13:15:51 +0000

As Iraq’s Kurds gear up to vote in a pivotal independence referendum, this IRIN in-depth series explores the Kurdish people - past, present, and future: What binds them together? What still separates them? What does the prospect of a nation state mean for ordinary people and what risks does this bubbling undercurrent of nationalism pose for the powder keg region?  Click on the title boxes below to read each story. Your browser does not support the video tag. A country called Kurdistan? Is independence around the corner for Iraq's Kurds? Martyn Aim/IRIN The Kurdish struggle in northern Syria As Iraqi Kurds prepare for a historic independence referendum, whither their Syrian brethren? Andrea DiCenzo/IRIN What do Yazidis make of Kurdish independence? Next week's independence referendum has divided one of Iraqi Kurdistan's most persecuted groups Martyn Aim/IRIN         The uncertain future of the Kurdish people Kurdistan shop cropped Special Report Migration Conflict Politics and Economics IRIN Iran Middle East and North Africa Iraq Syria Turkey [...]

What do Yazidis make of Kurdish independence?

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 07:41:51 +0000

Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum hangs on tenterhooks, with Iraq’s prime minister promising military intervention should Monday’s vote lead to violence, the US, UK, and UN urging Kurdish leaders not to move forward, and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s parliament voting to do just that. With much of society apparently in two minds about the referendum, especially its timing, one group the authorities long believed they could count on for a “yes” vote was the Yazidis, a Kurdish minority singled out by so-called Islamic State for especially cruel treatment in a campaign the UN has deemed genocide. But Yazidis – displaced in different camps and mostly hailing from Sinjar, a contested area that could become a flashpoint for further conflict if the vote goes forward – are themselves divided on the independence question. D Nahr/UNHCR Many internally displaced Yazidis have taken shelter in camps or housing near Dohuk “It’s the same for us if we vote or if we don’t vote,” Hassan, a Yazidi father of four living in a sprawling camp near the city of Dohuk, told IRIN. “Everyone treats us badly. Both the Arabs and the Kurds have treated us very badly. Both sides look out for their own interests and, meanwhile, nobody helps us.”   He gestured around the small tent he and his family have called home for two years: “There are 6,000 Yazidis living like this here, in just this one camp, but no one is interested in helping us to rebuild our homes and return home.” Backing for Iraq’s other armed force   Hassan said many Yazidis have thrown their support behind the predominantly Shia Hashd al-Shaabi forces, also known as the Popular Mobilisation Units, or PMU. Formed in 2014 of pre-existing militias and new volunteers with the express purpose of fighting IS and now officially under the authority of the Iraqi government, the PMU played a major role in liberating parts of Sinjar from IS, arming Yazidis who were willing to join. According to PMU spokesman Ahmed al-Asadi, 2,000 Yazidis have joined the force and are stationed in positions around Sinjar, mostly in areas still classed as military zones. “It’s good that [Yazidi] people are joining the Hashd,” Hassan said, while older family members nodded sagely in agreement. “They are [a] good option and a better one for us than the Kurds.” A key PMU leader has recently come out against the referendum. Iran, which supports the PMU with weapons, ammunition, and training, is also opposed to the vote.  But a few kilometres down the road from Hassan and his scepticism, at a makeshift garage and petrol station, Yazidi mechanic Yusef, selling fuel from barrels, was brimming with enthusiasm. “This referendum is good for the Kurdish people and good for the Yazidis,” he said, beaming. “The Kurds are supported by the US and together they support us. I’ll absolutely be voting yes.” History of persecution Most of Iraq’s Yazidis hail from Sinjar, in Nineveh province. More than 275,000 people – including tens of thousands of Yazidis – were driven from their homes there in August 2014 as IS swept through, terrorising the Yazidi population, who they characterise as pagans.  Innocent civilians were killed, abducted, and forced to convert under torture. Women were taken into sexual slavery, and many are believed to be still captive. Many fled IS slaughter to the top of Mount Sinjar, where some were dramatically rescued. Yazidis who remained on the mountain split. Some joined forces with a militia that has ties to Turkish- and Syrian-based Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), while others are loyal to KRG President Masoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Tom Robinson/IRIN In March this year, fierce fighting broke out between the groups, sending yet more civilians into flight. The split in the fighters – many of the first group have s[...]

Six major humanitarian challenges confronting the UN General Assembly

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 09:15:00 +0000

Hype over what President Donald Trump may or may not say dominated the media build-up to this week’s UN General Assembly. However, US funding cuts and the apparent absence of American authority on key global issues weigh more heavily over world leaders beset by a host of daunting humanitarian challenges.   It’s the first UNGA since Trump was elected president. He’ll make his debut on Monday in hosting a meeting on UN reform, ahead of his maiden speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday. It’s also the first year at the helm for UN Secretary-General António Guterres. His speech opening high-level week on Tuesday will be closely watched, as will his handling of Trump’s US administration.   The US decision on the eve of the General Assembly to halve its diplomatic presence in New York doesn’t augur well for those concerned that US cuts and retreats from international agreements are creating a dangerous vacuum at a time when the General Assembly has so many global crises to address.   Here’s our guide to the major humanitarian issues:   Climate Change   The UNGA is always a vital forum for the world’s developing countries, particularly those facing down climate change. The new General Assembly president, Miroslav Lajcak of Slovenia, identified grappling with it a priority for the UN’s 72nd session. Catastrophic flooding in South Asia and two record-setting hurricanes that recently hit the Caribbean and the southern United States will lend added gravity to sessions this week.   A high-level meeting convened by Lajcak and Guterres on Monday will focus on Hurricane Irma, which ploughed through the Caribbean and into Florida earlier this month. The UN’s regional response plan for the Caribbean calls for $27 million to help up to 265,000 people affected. For the first time in 300 years, no one is left living on Barbuda, according to Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US.   Notably absent from the expected speakers list are any Americans. Trump this year announced he would pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement, angering world leaders and giving an opening to countries like China to take more of a lead on the issue. After word leaked that the US might be changing its position once more, the White House confirmed on the eve of the UNGA that it still plans to renege unless drastic changes are made. On Tuesday, heads of state will meet for a roundtable on climate change. By then, a new hurricane, Maria, will be running over some of the same Caribbean islands hit by Irma, possibly reaching Hispaniola by the end of the week. NGOs hope that attention will rub off on the sustainable development goals more broadly, with warnings that countries are falling behind.   Famine   More than 20 million people in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and northeastern Nigeria are still at risk of famine, and their lot will be the focus of aid agencies and diplomats. The UN’s just-released State of Food Security report warns that “the long-term declining trend in undernourishment seems to have come to a halt and may have reversed.”   Shortfalls in funding persist across the board, and the aid community will be applying further pressure on donors to follow through on their promises. The week’s main event on famine response and prevention is on Thursday. It will provide an opportunity for some new faces – recently appointed World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley and Mark Lowcock, the new top UN relief official – to set out their stall.   Yemen’s long humanitarian crisis, deepened by years of war, is now considered the world’s most dire: more than 20 million people are in need of assistance; seven million are severely food insecure; two million children are acutely malnourished; the worst cholera outbreak in memory has infected more than 660,000 people and claimed 2,100 lives. There’s no sign the warring parties are any closer to ending the civil war. On Monday, UN, EU and Gulf Cooperation Council representatives will host a [...]

The Kurdish struggle in northern Syria

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000

While Iraq’s Kurds may vote to become independent in 10 days time, officials in the neighbouring Kurdish-run Democratic Federation of Northern Syria promise they have no intention to secede, even if they could.                                                                Change is nonetheless afoot. The expanding Kurdish enclave, controlled mainly by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has been operating for some time as an autonomous quasi-state in the middle of a country at war.   The PYD is inspired by the writings of Abdullah “Apo” Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been fighting for greater autonomy and/or a Kurdish state in Turkey for almost four decades. Andrea DiCenzo/IRIN Families and fighters gather in Kobani to honour Syrian Arabs and Kurds who died fighting IS   The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the PYD’s multi-ethnic military umbrella organisation – which includes the mainly Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) – are moving deeper into Arab-majority areas of Syria, not to mention launching an assault on so-called Islamic State-controlled Raqqa with US support.    But Kurds in northern Syria are not only at odds with Turkey, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, and much of the Syrian opposition: They themselves are divided.   The roots of division   Northern Syria (known as “Rojava” by Kurdish nationalists) declared a federal system in 2016 in three cantons – Afrin and Kobani in northern Aleppo province, and Jazira in Hassakeh.   Decision-making is largely in the hands of the PYD leadership, which enjoys a huge grassroots following. Many anti-PYD dissidents have been arrested or forced to leave the country – particularly members of the Kurdish National Council (ENKS), a collection of Kurdish political parties that oppose the PYD.   “PYD is imprisoning politicians, burning offices of opposition parties, assaulting journalists, and preventing civil society organisations from working freely,” Şiyar Îsa, a political scientist working in the area, told IRIN.   Parliamentarians have been appointed, not elected, while local elections were announced at such short notice that any serious contestation of PYD rule would have been impossible, especially given an ENKS boycott. A new round of elections for both local councils and seats in the highest law-making bodies are scheduled for the next few months.   The enmity between the two rivals has deepened over time, partly because of PYD conflicts with ENKS’s main allies, namely the Syrian opposition, KRG President Masoud Barzani, and his Kurdistan Democratic Party.   Brain drain Rather than striving for utopia in the economic sphere as PYD ideology dictates, the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria has a struggle on its hand just to survive.   The lack of jobs, as well as forced conscription into local self-defence forces, has prompted many Kurds to flee the country, particularly young men and those with a higher education.   “Most of the young people, including myself, left Rojava for several reasons. One of these reasons was to avoid belonging to any military faction fighting on Syrian soil,” Xandî Cengo, a university graduate in his mid twenties from Qamishli near Syria’s northern border with Turkey, told IRIN.   Cengo made his way to the KRG last year, but has since followed the refugee trail to Europe.   Christians are also leaving en masse, in part because Muslims have been purchasing property from anyone leaving, turning previously all-Christian neighbourhoods into mixed ones.   There has also been an influx of people from other parts of Syria, and even Iraq. While some have come by choice, the majority are rural poor displaced by conflict who add to the region’s economic burden. Andrea DiCenzo/IRIN [...]

A country called Kurdistan?

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 08:44:01 +0000

In northern Iraq’s main city of Erbil, the green, white, and red striped flag of Kurdistan, with its cheerful yellow sun emblem, is everywhere. It hangs on food stalls, homes, public and government buildings; it even hangs from taxi rear-view mirrors. But nearly a century after early Kurdish nationalists introduced the tricolor at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, it still belongs to no state.   Kurdish leaders hope to change this on 25 September, when the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) puts independence to a vote in a referendum that could create the world’s 194th country (196 if you include Palestine and the Holy See).   Although a ‘yes’ is the expected outcome of the referendum, with most Iraqi Kurds in favour of the idea of independence, if not the timing of the vote, it remains contentious. Iraq, the United States, Iran, and Turkey have all come out against the referendum, and it is not clear how much popular support the idea of holding the poll this month has amongst ordinary Kurds.   For years following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan enjoyed a trade, business, and construction boom, but this is now a fading memory and disillusionment with local politicians has grown. Many may be ideologically pro-independence, but whether they trust a political elite accused of cronyism, nepotism, and corruption to carry out a fair vote or run a state is another matter entirely.   But nationalism is still strong here. There are ties that bind: The Kurds speak the same languages and have a shared history and culture. There is also a feeling among some that given the vital role Kurdish fighters (peshmerga) have played in vanquishing so-called Islamic State, they’ve earned the right to a nation.    But will nationalism be enough to pull all this off?   Statesman, skyscrapers, and shepherds   Not so long ago, Erbil’s expansive horizon of modern malls, office buildings, and designer apartment blocks saw Iraqi Kurdistan proudly dubbed the new Dubai.   Then came a shock fall in oil prices and deteriorating relations with Iraq’s central government. The budget went unpaid by Baghdad, leaving the KRG struggling to pay salaries, while business deals turned sour. Then came IS. Many international companies fled and construction projects were abandoned.    KRG officials hope to regain this golden decade of Iraqi Kurdistan via September’s referendum, and in the capital they are adamant independence is the only way forward. But what appears to be driving this as much as any growing desire for self-rule is the notion that proceeding as a unified Iraq is completely untenable. Your browser does not support the video tag. Sitting behind an enormous desk in Erbil, decorated with Kurdish memorabilia and awards, his uniform emblazoned with the Kurdish flag, Brigadier-General Halgwrd Hikmat, head of the peshmerga media ministry, told IRIN that Iraqi Kurds have given union a fair shot, without much in return.    “Before 2004, when Saddam was still in power, we had partial independence and little contact with Iraq. But after Saddam was finished, we decided to try to build a country [together] because Saddam was a dictator,” he said. “We’ve been working with the Baghdad government since then and, to be honest, we’ve got absolutely nothing.”    That nothing is political as well as financial: Hikmat complained that Kurdish votes in parliament have been ignored, and their proposals overlooked.   “We’ve been together with Iraq for a long time, but it’s reached the point when we can’t be with them anymore. We can’t work with them anymore,” he said. “We only want to be neighbours with them now.”    This sense of finality may be relatively new – KRG President Masoud Barzani, who leads the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), only announced the referendum and its date in June – but the rumblings of discontent have long been felt among se[...]

Afghanistan redux, mind your language, and Angola’s First Family

Fri, 25 Aug 2017 12:53:59 +0000

President Joao Lourenco – can he escape “the family”? It’s no surprise, Angola’s next president is going to be Joao Lourenco. The big question is can the party loyalist and former general usher in any real change in Africa’s third largest economy after his electoral victory? Angola has a per capita GDP of $6,800. But, run as a “crony petro-state”, its social indicators are appalling and economy in free-fall. Lourenco has promised to crack down on corruption. Although not known for personally having sticky fingers, he is part of the system. He is the hand-picked successor to José Eduardo dos Santos who has ruled for close to four decades and will remain head of the ruling MPLA party. Dos Santos’s billionaire daughter Isabel heads Sonangol, the state oil company, and his son José Filomeno runs the country’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund. Lourenco is generally depicted as the candidate for continuity. Yet he will need resources to build his power base, and so the transition may have real impact on the dos Santos family's business interests. The Financial Times suggests the showdown could come with Isabel, whose job “puts her in control of much state revenue”. And the family could fight back. Rebecca Engebretsen writes in African Arguments that President Filipe Nyusi was elected in Mozambique also on an anti-corruption platform, but has since been troubled by leaks connecting him to prominent fraud cases during his time as a minister. What is clear is that change is unlikely to come overnight in Angola. Cameroon’s deepening language divide On a recent visit to Yaoundé, an IRIN journalist was rash enough, over lunch in a modest eatery, to raise Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis with the head of an NGO that works with the country’s youth. When the man suggested the main problem lay not between the restive Anglophone minority and French-speaking majority, but between the Anglophones and President Paul Biya, a women at a neighboring table, who turned out to work in Biya’s office, kicked up an almighty fuss and seemed set to have the man arrested. So sensitive is this 10-month-old crisis which has paralysed education, led to strikes in two English-speaking parts of the country, and seen dozens of activists and even bishops detained pending trial in military courts, that it cannot be discussed in public. Yet it continues to fester. At least six schools were set on fire over the past week, reportedly for failing to stick to a declared education strike. Earlier in the year, markets and government buildings were targeted. The government blames emerging separatist groups. Dialogue is moribund. According the International Crisis Group’s latest report on the issue, “ahead of presidential elections next year, the resurgence of the Anglophone problem could bring instability.” The report added that small secessionist groups that emerged this year are taking advantage of the situation to radicalise the population with support from part of the Anglophone diaspora. While the risk of partition of the country is low, the risk of a resurgence of the problem in the form of armed violence is high, as some groups are now advocating that approach.” A man. A plan. Afghanistan "It was 2 or 3 in the morning. I was woken up by gunfire. It was so loud. There were people screaming. My children were scared. My youngest was only a few months old. We all ran down to the basement. It was the safest place in the house. It was terrifying." So begins Doctor Marzia Salam Yaftali in this BBC Outlook feature linked to US President Donald Trump's announcement that American troops will remain in Afghanistan for the long haul. Doctor Yaftali is describing the situation the last time the Taliban tried to retake their northern former stronghold of Kunduz. It was 2015 and she was the gynaecologist in the city's last public hospital. Those weeks under siege were an extreme time, but th[...]

Aid workers at risk on World Humanitarian Day

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 15:11:42 +0000

Ahead of World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, take a look at some highlights of our recent coverage related to this year’s #NotATarget theme, which aims to bring attention to the thousands of aid workers and millions of civilians caught in the crossfire of conflict. Red Cross killings in Afghanistan reveal the limits of aid access In February 2017, six staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were killed in Jawzjan, Afghanistan. The attack echoed an earlier incident in 1996 that led aid agencies and NGOs to get more serious about security risks and staff protection. Dangers remain however, especially for those working in crises where they can be labelled as proxies for the enemy or foreign forces. The Jawzjan murders were deeply demoralising because the ICRC, of all humanitarian organisations, dedicates significant resources to access, outreach, and ensuring acceptance by all sides in any conflict. In this instructive commentary, security analyst Abby Stoddard argues that while it’s important for NGOs to secure their own staff and operations, it’s vital they do so without simply transferring those risks onto local partners.   Time to confront sexual abuse and harassment in the aid sector As we reflect on the dangers facing aid workers this World Humanitarian Day, harassment and abuse cannot be overlooked. Women in the sector are too often subjected to sexual harassment from colleagues and superiors. They may also fear professional repercussions if they come forward, lacking trust in the system and options for accountability. The Humanitarian Women’s Network conducted a survey of more than 1,000 female aid workers and found that 69 percent of respondents had experienced discrimination, harassment, or abuse and did not report it. Additionally, the study suggested that female foreign aid workers are subjected to increased risk in the communities where they work, as seen with the aid workers raped in South Sudan. When working in troubled countries and precarious situations, local law enforcement is sometimes not a safe or realistic option to report to, and so accountability is difficult. As aid work continues to professionalise, policies and protections around sexual abuse and harassment remain critical, both in the wider community and within organisations themselves. Unfortunately, Report the Abuse, one of the few organisations dedicated solely to exposing and improving sexual violence crimes against humanitarians, is set to close shop for a lack of funding (certainly, not a lack of need).   Local aid workers on the front line of South Sudan’s civil war Worldwide, about 80 percent of aid personnel killed, kidnapped, and seriously wounded are locals working for organisations within their own country. South Sudan is no exception and, since the start of its civil war in 2013, has ranked as one of the deadliest countries for humanitarian workers. This feature from regular IRIN contributor Sofia Barbarani exposes how in a civil war drawn largely on ethnic lines, local humanitarians are never entirely safe from being accused of allegiance to their own ethnicity. National NGOs also find donors are reluctant to give to them directly and can face accusations from both sides of bias and/or affiliation. International NGOs don’t have it easy by any means, but they are better placed to evacuate and protect their employees. Local NGOs can never leave. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" id="datawrapper-chart-wwVo3" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="//" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"> aid_worker_2.jpg Feature Aid and Policy Aid workers at risk on World Humanitarian Day IRIN GENEVA South Sudan [...]

The Iraqi siege you’ve never heard of

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 07:39:16 +0000

Summer sun beats down like a spotlight on the Tigris River meandering through the town of Shirqat, the narrow band of water the only border between territory held by Iraqi forces on one side, and militants from the so-called Islamic State on the other. Through the ripples of heat rising off the rich green riverbanks, the black IS flag can be seen flying atop buildings and hills east of the river. Daily, clusters of families cross the Tigris in a frenzy on tiny rafts, fleeing from life under IS control. Army units on the western bank receive the exhausted escapees in Shirqat, separating the men from women, shuttling them to reception and screening centers. Many of these people have escaped from Hawija, some 50 kilometres east of Shirqat. Now that Mosul has been liberated, Hawija is the largest IS-controlled territory in Iraq. An estimated 70,000 people live there in a stage of siege, with militants in control and supply routes cut off by militias allied with the Iraqi army. After living more than three years under IS occupation, more and more Iraqis are fleeing the city and crossing the river to freedom. Escapees told IRIN that inside Hawija, public executions by IS, malnutrition, and disease are rife. Life in the city, and its dozens of surrounding villages, has become a brutal routine of bare survival. Once thought to be before Mosul in the queue for an anti-IS operation, the campaign to take back Hawija has been complicated by competing – but allied – forces around the city, and concerns about sectarian revenge in a Sunni-majority city that has a reputation for opposing the Shia-led central government. Years of fear Sitting with folded legs on the floor of a pre-camp reception centre in Shirqat staffed by local volunteers, with bits of her dyed-orange hair peeking out from her headscarf, Hindia Khalaf Atallah, 57, spoke of a life of extremes under IS rule. “We’ve been under siege,” she told IRIN. “IS destroyed us. Life was horrible. Lots of people killed themselves because of this calamity. Night would come, and there was no food to put into our mouths.” When the militants first declared their control of Hawija, around the same time they took Mosul in June 2014, Atallah said some locals welcomed their arrival, as IS styled themselves revolutionaries coming to protect the Sunnis of Iraq, after mass Sunni-led protests against the Baghdad government the year before. Atallah said the early days of IS rule were different. “They didn’t hit anyone. They didn’t force us to wear the niqab [face covering for women],” she explained. But as the militants began to lose ground to Iraqi forces across the country, their rule became more nihilistic. “Now, for women who try to flee, a bullet in the leg. For men, execution,” Atallah said. “All the executions were done at the square. If there was someone who helped people cross [out of IS territory], he would be executed. If he was a member of the Iraqi police services, he would be executed. What a hell of a life!” Hawija was completely surrounded and cut off a year ago by a coalition of Iraqi militias known as Popular Mobilisation Forces, Kurdish peshmerga, and the Iraqi army. Prices of basic products skyrocketed, and people found themselves surviving off bare grain. “A kilo of dates was 20,000 Iraqi dinars [almost $17]. That was the cheapest food you could buy,” Atallah said. “Our life was happy... But now what do we have? I haven’t had a sip of tea since December [2016],” she said, angrily. “We don’t even have enough money to buy a quarter kilo of sugar." Flight Despite the obvious risks, Atallah decided to flee in June. Leaving Hawija under the cover of darkness, she lied her way through IS checkpoints, telling the militants she was on her way to see a sick cousin in a village nearby. She hid in acquaintances’ homes on her way out, running betwe[...]

Mobile magistrates are Iraq's new frontline fighters

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 09:17:59 +0000

“My apologies, I have to go,” Khalid al-Shimari proffers as he races to his car, gravel scrunching under his feet. In the pocket of his blazer a ringtone sounds for the umpteenth time. “My court needs me,” he explains, pulling open the car door. His driver accelerates away. Al-Shimari, 47, is a judge. Having just handled a host of important administrative tasks, he is speeding out of Chamakor, a camp for displaced Iraqis some 40 kilometres east of the recently liberated city of Mosul. Since so-called Islamic State took over Mosul in June 2014, his court has operated out of the nearby district of Hamdaniya. Not only is al-Shimari a judge in exile and an internally displaced person himself, but since December he is also one of Iraq’s most in-demand professionals: a mobile magistrate. Every Thursday, al-Shimari, who has worked for the provincial court for 14 years, visits one of the IDP camps around Mosul to hold court sessions and register marriages, births, and other important life events. Elizabeth Fitt/IRIN Al-Shimari leaves Chamakor, on the way to his own court A meeting with al-Shimari is a godsend for those among the tens of thousands of Iraqis who (after three years of war) no longer hold things like ID cards and birth certificates. In Iraq, this is not just a matter of record. The absence of key documents can prevent IDPs from passing checkpoints and accessing public services, even from receiving vital humanitarian aid. There is plenty of work to do. Some have lost or damaged their papers amid the chaos of conflict. Others couldn’t renew them in time or hold documents issued by IS that aren’t recognised by the Iraqi government.  But, as more and more parts of the country are liberated from IS, the trips al-Shimari and a colleague are making are hardly making a dent in one of Iraq’s greatest challenges. “It is a disaster,” said the judge of the administrative mess. Mobile court The idea of a mobile court came from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and the Swedish NGO Qandil. UNHCR estimates that the average family displaced from Mosul is missing two to three key documents. In five camps alone – currently home to more than 70,000 IDPs – Qandil has identified as many as 31,481 missing documents. According to a report by the International Organisation for Migration, 88 percent of Iraq’s three million IDPs said the challenges around missing documents are one of their major concerns. Iraq’s justice system, already slow, is now even further weighed down with a document backlog that is hindering displaced Iraqis with lengthy procedures that can delay any chance of them getting their lives back on track. Elizabeth Fitt/IRIN A marriage certificate issued by so-called Islamic State “The system can be cumbersome and time-consuming,” said Leila Jane Nassif, UNHCR’s deputy representative in Iraq. But this seems like gross understatement when al-Shimari lays bare his workload, which goes far beyond matters of documentation: “It is horrible,” he told IRIN. “There were times where my own court dealt with 500 cases a day.” Making matters worse, most displaced people who reside in camps in the Kurdistan Regional Government-controlled areas are not allowed to leave the site for security reasons without special permission, preventing them from even accessing the courts or civil affairs offices. The call to action was clear for UNHCR, explained Nassif: “[Aid organisations] needed to work with the courts to help them find new ways to deal with the large backlog of cases.” And so, together with Qandil, the UN-agency reasoned: if you can’t come to the judge, we will bring the judge to you. Too much demand In addition to al-Shimari, th[...]

Starving civilians and suicide bombings: The terrible truth of liberating Mosul 

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 08:51:43 +0000

“Don’t open the door under any circumstances,” shouts Iraqi special forces soldier Salem, as his Humvee climbs over the wreckage of Mosul’s Old City. “Daesh run out from houses and side streets and blow themselves up anytime.” Large military vehicles were never supposed to be part of the battle for the Old City – its ancient streets are too narrow. But the intensity of the airstrikes in the final stages of the offensive against so-called Islamic State has been so great that armoured bulldozers now plough their way through. Iraq’s armed forces are still battling for the final area of the city held by IS, known in Arabic by the acronym “Daesh”. The extent of the destruction is shocking. Most buildings are just empty facades, many flattened to rubble. When a group of civilians – mostly women and children – appears beneath rising pillars of smoke from the battlefield beyond, their presence is like a miracle. It seems inconceivable anyone could have made it out of this terrible landscape alive. They move towards the Humvee like zombies, arms outstretched, begging for water in the 42-degree afternoon heat. “Don’t open the door,” Salem warns. “Yesterday, two Daesh women blew themselves up amongst fleeing people.”  IS militants, including suicide bombers, are hiding amongst Mosul citizens trying to escape both IS and the heavy fighting, and now no one can be trusted.  Despite his own warning, Salem hands out the three small bottles of hot water he finds rolling around inside the Humvee. As he opens the window, the awful stench of rotting bodies fills the vehicle. Beneath crumpled houses demolished by airstrikes, bodies are rapidly decomposing in the heat, a reminder of the death met by many who remained in the city.  Civilian or IS bomber? Some 900,000 people have fled Mosul and surrounding areas since the fighting began last October, although some have since returned. “Recently, there have been a lot of women suicide bombers amongst the fleeing people,” Mohammed, an Iraqi special forces intelligence officer, tells IRIN. “Today it was a Moroccan girl who was just 17 years old. She killed five women and injured more.”  There have been multiple reports of IS deploying suicide bombers, especially women, as they lose ground. Mohammed says there have been 25 confirmed cases of women blowing themselves up in the Old City. Usually disguised amongst fleeing civilians, they detonate suicide belts at army positions. Male civilians are often instructed to walk out with their shirts rolled up to clearly show they pose no danger, but cultural sensitivities mean there’s no satisfactory way for male Iraqi soldiers to check women. Doctor Ahmed, working at the nearest field hospital, 1.4 kilometres from the front line, told IRIN that suicide bombings amongst fleeing civilians had been responsible for more than 100 cases his clinic received the previous day. Tom Westcott/IRIN A boy from Mosul has shrapnel wounds treated at a field hospital As the Humvee moves deeper into the Old City, there is scarcely enough room for the vehicle. Civilians flatten themselves against whatever exterior walls are still intact, children pressing small hands against the vehicle’s windows, still pleading for water. There is nothing left to give. Salem pulls to a standstill in a clearing near the sad stump of Mosul’s al-Nuri Mosque. Famous for its leaning minaret, the 12th century mosque was destroyed two weeks ago, allegedly by IS, although the group released a video claiming it had been demolished by coalition airstrikes.  “Stay away from any civilians,” repeats Salem. “This is exactly where the two… Daesh women blew themselves up yesterday,” he says, pointing out a bloodied leg lying am[...]