It has been just over a year since the jihadists in the Islamic State (ISIS) lost power over their greatest conquest in Iraq: the city of Mosul, the nation’s second largest city, which in Biblical times was called Nineveh. The stories of ISIS terrorists’ serious crimes against humanity have shaken the whole world, including Sweden. Not least through the many Kurds and Christian Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans who live in Södertälje, Norrköping and other Swedish cities.
The Swedish Pentecostal Movement has, through the aid organization PMU, helped Iraqis who have escaped IS with humanitarian aid since 2014, and is now making a new fundraising campaign for internally displaced people as well.
Two million internally displaced people
About four million Iraqis have returned to their hometowns and cities after ISIS has been driven away from their siege in northern Iraq. But there are still about two million internally displaced people living in tent camps or with friends and relatives. Others have settled in empty houses and apartments around the country. The internally displaced people have usually not fled more than a few tens of kilometers from their homes.
The level of hopelessness is high
Some of those who have not returned home yet do not dare to do so out of fear of new ISIS attacks. Others have gotten their houses destroyed and their possessions stolen, or see no opportunity to find a job if they return. The level of hopelessness is high. What will they do? Will their children be able to go to school again?
27-year-old Said Ahmed Abeed in the tent camp in the Hawiga area outside the oil town Kirkuk is one of the internally displaced people. When the Islamic State took his village and forced him to grow his beard, he choose to flee with his family of three children between the ages of one and six.
Said Ahmed Abeed tells Dagen that he dreamed of becoming a doctor or working on the oil fields. But that didn’t happen. The Arab family has now slept on a mattress in the refugee tent for three years, right now in the winter cold. This after escaping from the IS terrorists over the mountains for 12-15 hours to find a safe place.
“We have no money, no documentation and no job. I can’t go back to my home town at this time,” says Said Ahmed Abeed.
His dreams of getting to Russia or Egypt instead have yet to come true either.
IS terrorists remain
The safety regulations are rigorous for foreign journalists and aid workers where Dagen travels in the Hawiga area. Because even though IS has lost power over the area, IS terrorists are still in the areas. They hide in valleys, by water and in caves, and carry out raids against selected villages. This at the same time as the internally displaced people move back to other villages.
The country road out to the small village we are heading to is now being patrolled by the heavily armed Iraqi army, which has checkpoints every second kilometer the approximately 20 kilometers we travel on the road. Every morning the soldiers clear the country road from new road bombs and mines that have been placed out by IS under the protection of the darkness of the night. Far from harmless areas, but our local guides are good and are careful with our safety. Many cars run this route everyday.
Genocide of Christians
In this area there are many Sunni Arabs and Kurds who have fled from the terror of radical IS soldiers, and their strict rules that women, for example, should wear full niqabs. A few tens of kilometers away on the Nineveh plains, we find Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans, the Christian indigenous people who have been driven away by IS, and a few have now returned home, while large groups have left Iraq. Here, they talk about a genocide of Christians.
IS sex slaves
Even the Yazidi people use the term genocide. Many Yazidi women were taken away by IS to be used as sex slaves. The cruel rapes have become known to the outside world by, through people like 25-year-old Nadia Murad, who recently received the Nobel Peace Prize together with the Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege.
33-year-old Yazidi Shaha was surrounded by IS soldiers for ten days on the infamous Sinjar Mountain, along with thousands of other Yazidis. Then she has lived for three years in a tent camp near the Turkish border in the north.
“My children have nightmares that the IS military will come and take them. I am also afraid that IS will come back,” Shaha tells Dagen.
In the Hawiga area, where we were traveling, one of the IS mass graves was found, just before Christmas, with nearly 200 executed Iraqis. The UN has found numerous such mass graves in the areas, the largest containing 4,000 dead bodies. Our guide in the car points to a forest grove next to the road and says that it was most likely there that IS recorded many of their ”execution videos” that were broadcast on social media to spread terror in the locals and in people all over the world. I shudder inside at the thought of what happened in that forest just a few meters away from where we are driving.
Marks of IS remain
Inside the city of Hawiga, we see totally collapsed houses from bombings of Iraqi forces and the United States in connection with the recapture of the city from the terrorists of the Islamic state. IS marks are still present at some of the stone houses. The scripture was done to indicate that the homes of the Iraqi families had been taken over by the Islamic State.
Among the returning internal refugees, we sometimes encounter a cautious hope for the future, but also material distress, psychological trauma, ravaged houses, unemployment and lack of trust between different ethnic and religious groups. Who can they really trust? It may be one of their former neighbors who is an IS-sympathizer, some of them say.
Fear of new terrorist groups
But it’s not just hidden, dormant IS cells that worry 27-year-old Said Ahmed Abeed and Yazidi Shaha in a country that has been hit by ethnic cleansing and armed conflicts for many years. The question several pose is also what the name will be of the next group that emerges with a similar terror ideology as IS.
Translated by ADFA.