• February 20, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Mahmoud Sheikh Ibrahim has seen the worst of ISIS crimes over his years working with journalists covering the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Shocked to see the numerous interviews by Western publications with ISIS members in Syria and the sympathy some have garnered in the West, he emphasizes that these people don’t regret joining ISIS. 

Ibrahim is one of many in Iraq and Syria expressing bewilderment at the sudden attention “ISIS brides” and other ISIS members are getting in the media. Last week, The Times of London published an interview with Shemima Begum, a British woman who traveled to Syria in 2015 to join ISIS and married a Dutch convert. 

After her first interview she has become a celebrity in UK media, with Sky News and the BBC sitting down with her in a displaced persons camp in Syria. According to reports, she also gave birth to a child between giving her first interview and speaking to Sky News on Sunday. She said “it was nice” at first under ISIS. Executions were fine, “Islamically it was allowed,” she said. 

She is one of several thousand Westerners now held in Syria suspected of ISIS membership. They include people from 41 countries, as well as at up to 800 from European countries. Interviewers have appeared reticent to ask ISIS members, especially those from European countries, about ISIS crimes, such as enslaving and mass rape of Yazidi women, and genocide. 

In many interviews, the questions have centered primarily on what would happen if the ISIS member returned to their country of origin, not on the hardships imposed on local Syrians and Iraqis by ISIS and its war. In fact, none of the ISIS members interviewed in the last week have apologized for the harm done to groups like the Yazidis or expressed any interest in the 3,000 Yazidis still missing. 

Nonetheless, they have said that they want to come home and should be given a “second chance.” Many of them paint a picture of having lived a privileged life back in Europe before joining ISIS, and then a privileged life in Syria where they seemed to have been at the top of the ISIS social order. 

Some of the Westerners even managed to receive money from families throughout the war, and they were evacuated by ISIS from one city to the next, appearing to have lived in free housing taken from locals. None of them described having a job while living under ISIS and some described life as good and even “fun.” 

As Western media asks if the ISIS members should be allowed to come home, locals are responding. “Why? So her Salafist buddies back home can start carrying out attacks because they’re emboldened by someone who is in ISIS and will tell them stories about her time in Syria?” one asks on Twitter. 

“ISIS members will get away with it because the victims are not Westerners, live in a far away land and don’t speak English,” writes Jenan Moussa of Araba Al Aan TV. Ali Y. Al-Baroodi, who survived the ISIS occupation of Mosul, was shocked to see how ISIS members described their enjoyable life over the last few years before they were defeated. 

“It was hell on Earth and every single one of them made it so,” he said. Treated like “second-class humans” by the foreigners who came to occupy Iraq and Syria, he sarcastically wonders whether the ISIS members now pretending to be victims want the locals to “apologize for disturbing their stay here.” 

He tweets that the ISIS members are not innocent and seeks to remind the world of the missing Yazidi women, “demolished cities and hundreds of mass graves, [and] thousands of orphans and widows.” Many others who have closely followed the Syrian conflict are also outraged at the sudden sympathy seemingly being given to the Western ISIS members who have been found in Syria. 

“It’s impossible to muster sympathy for her. She went to Syria as a colonizer, several months after ISIS beheaded journalists and aid workers,” writes Idrees Ahmad, an author and academic. He argues that she needs to face justice. “Syria has no mechanism for delivering such justice. So its the British state's responsibility. But Britain needs to make sure it doesn't repeat America's mistake. Guantanamo was one of the biggest propaganda triumphs for jihadi recruiters.” 

“It’s amazing to me that captured Western ISIS members are framed primarily as people who might or might not harm their home countries. They are colonizers who enslaved, raped and murdered Syrians and Iraqis,” Ahmad writes. Molly Crabapple is the co-author of Brothers of the Gun, a memoir of the Syrian war. She notes that female members of ISIS played a key role in its abuses of and enslavement of locals. 

“I believe that countries need to compensate the victims of crimes committed by their ISIS fighter citizens. In one case I know of, a college-educated Belgian man stole the apartment of a Syrian man, then purchased and repeatedly raped an enslaved Iraqi woman.” Westerners went to Iraq and Syria to “fulfill their violent fantasies,” she said. 

Like many, she wonders why media is not focusing on telling the stories of locals who suffered under ISIS instead of the stories of the perpetrators. Murad Ismael, the co-founder of Yazda, an organization that helps Yazidis, also wants to highlight the female victims that seem to have been forgotten. “How the hell are we going to stop future mass crimes if we let ISIS go unpunished?” he writes. 

“Thousands of terrorists left their heavenly countries and came to Iraq and Syria. They came and murdered our men, raped and enslaved our women and girls and took our children.” Despite the outpouring of anger, many Western media continue to focus primarily on their own citizens who joined ISIS: An American woman “begging” to come back home, a Canadian woman “trapped in Syria” who now wants her second chance. 

Many of the Western ISIS members, who have appeared by the hundreds as the war in Syria winds down, have been in displaced-persons camps for only a few weeks or months, while their victims are often still living in IDP camps after four years. 

While the ISIS members say they want to go home and get a second chance, there is often no home for the victims of ISIS to go to, and ISIS members have expressed no remorse or desire to give a second chance to the minorities in Iraq and Syria that they sought to genocide. It leaves many wondering if this is how the war ends, with attention and sympathy for the perpetrators and silence for those left behind in Syria – lives torn apart by the ISIS war. 

by Seth J Frantzman

  • February 20, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Ever since Islamic State visited death and destruction on their villages in northern Iraq nearly five years ago, Yazidis Daoud Ibrahim and Kocher Hassan have had trouble sleeping. 

For Hassan, 39, who was captured, it is her three missing children, and three years of imprisonment at the hands of the jihadist group. 

For Ibrahim, 42, who escaped, it is the mass grave that he returned to find on his ravaged land. "They burnt one house down, blew up the other, they torched the olive trees two three times. ... There is nothing left," the father of eight told Reuters. 

More than 3,000 other members of their minority sect were killed in 2014 in an onslaught that the United Nations described as genocidal. Ibrahim and Hassan lived to tell of their suffering, but like other survivors, they have not moved on. ​She will never set foot in her village of Rambousi again. 

"My sons built that house. I can't go back without them. ... Their school books are still there, their clothes," she said. 

'They want to be buried' 

As U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to announce the demise of the Islamist group in Syria and Iraq, U.N. data suggests many of those it displaced in the latter country have, like Hassan, not returned home. 

Meanwhile, Ibrahim and his family live in a barn next to the pile of rubble that was once their home. He grows wheat because the olive trees will need years to grow again. 

No one is helping him rebuild, so he is doing it himself, brick by brick. "Life is bad. There is no aid," he said sitting on the edge of the collapsed roof which he frequently rummages under to find lost belongings. On this day, it was scarves, baby clothes and a photo album. 

"Every day that I see this mass grave I get 10 more grey hairs," he said. The grave, discovered in 2015 just outside nearby Sinjar city, contains the remains of more than 70 elderly women from the village of Kocho, residents say. 

"I hear the cries of their spirits at the end of the night. They want to be buried, but the government won't remove their remains." They and their kin also want justice, Ibrahim adds. When the militants came, thousands of Yazidis fled on foot toward Sinjar mountain. 

More than four years later, some 2,500 families — including Hassan and five of her daughters — still live in the tents that are scattered along the hills that weave their way toward the summit. 

The grass is green on the meadows where children run after sheep and the women pick wild herbs. But the peaceful setting masks deep-seated fears about the past and the future. 

Grateful for the sun 

Until a year and a half ago, Hassan and five of her children were kept in an underground prison in Raqqa with little food and in constant fear of torture. 

She doesn't know why Islamic State freed her and the girls, then aged one to six, and hasn't learnt the fate of the three remaining children: two boys Fares and Firas, who would be 23 and 19 now, and Aveen, a girl who would be 13. 

There is no electricity or running water in the camp where they live today. She doesn't remember when her children last ate fruit. "Life here is very difficult but I thank God that we are able to see the sun," she said. 

During the day, her children go to school and are happy, but at night "they are afraid of their own shadow," and she herself has nightmares. "Last night, I dreamt they were slaughtering my child," she said. 

Mahmoud Khalaf, her husband, says Islamic State not only destroyed their livelihoods. The group broke the trust between Yazidis and the communities of different faiths and ethnicities they had long lived alongside. 

"There is no protection. Those who killed us and held us captive and tormented us have returned to their villages," Khalaf, 40, said, referring to the neighboring Sunni Arab villages who the Yazidis say conspired with the militants. 

"We have no choice but to stay here. ... They are stronger than us." 


If you wish to help the Yazidi community in Iraq, then please consider making a donation to the AMAR Foundation, who are a leading charity and are currently working across Iraq.

  • February 20, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Dr Laith Al-Rubaiy, who is a consultant gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Northwick Park and St Mark’s Hospitals in north west London, is one of three people shortlisted in the international category of the St David Awards. 

The awards, run by the devolved government in Wales, honour “exceptional achievements of people from all walks of life in Wales and abroad”. 

The doctor, who used to live and work in Cardiff, has returned to Basra – where he himself studied medicine – to run mobile clinics in the city’s outlying areas, which he explained are isolated from primary care clinics. 

Dr Al-Rubaiy told the Kilburn Times: “In the past year or so I have been back to Basra two or three times to set up mobile patient clinics. They’re essentially caravans fitted out with basic equipment. I am also involved in designing the curriculum for the medical school.” 

Dr Al-Rubaiy’s trips to Iraq have seen him work with the Amar Foundation, a Westminster-based charity which helps vulnerable communities who have been affected by conflict in the Middle-East. With the foundation, Dr Al-Rubaiy is also hoping to improve screening for the illnesses he deals with in his day job. 

He said: “We’ve also provided kits so the can carry out bowel cancer screening, for example. I wanted to use my experience to give back to Iraq. So far, so good!” Next week Dr Al-Rubaiy, who is 39, will be flying back out to Basra where he will be trying something new. 

“We are going to be trying to set up a clinic on a boat in the marshes south of Basra. Dr Al-Rubaiy, who continues to lecture at Swansea added: “It’s a huge priviledge to be honest. I didn’t expect to be nominated, and I didn’t know anything about it until I got the letter from the Welsh first minister. 

“I can’t claim all of the credit. It’s a group effort between myself, the charity, and the authorities here and in Iraq. “It’s been a huge opportunity – I feel I am giving something back.” The award-winners will be announced on March 21st. 

by Sam Volpe

  • February 20, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
  • No comments
Persecuted by extremists, Sufis in Iraq sought shelter among other followers of mystical Islam in Baghdad. 

Their plight sheds light on nearly two million internally displaced Iraqis unable to return home. It was April 2015 and swelteringly hot when Hikmet arrived at the Bzebez bridge, crossing the Euphrates river towards Baghdad. 

He and other volunteers would remain there for a month, aiding crowds of people fleeing Daesh’s takeover of Iraqi territory, and the military operations against the group. “It was very hot and the people were scared,” he remembered, asking that only his first name be used. 

“Every day I was helping people to cross the bridge - they were coming in their thousands. We brought food and water to give people. We had wheelchairs to transport disabled people, the elderly and the handicapped.” 

The internally displaced people (IDPs) were largely from Iraq’s Sufi community, and those Hikmet helped across the bridge were among some 10,000 people from Anbar and Saladin provinces who found themselves sheltering with other followers of mystical Islam in Baghdad. 

The Iraqi capital’s Sufis meet every Thursday in one of the city’s main tekkiyehs - Sufi mosques. As part of their prayers they gather in a circle, swaying slightly to a rhythmical drum beat. Some beat themselves, as others twist their bodies and repeat their prayers. 

Made famous by the whirling dervishes of Konya in Turkey, Sufism emphasises medita­tion and trance-like performances in religious practice. They have often been persecuted, abhorred by Sunni extremists and considered heretical by some Shia communities too. 

As Daesh swept across northern Iraq from 2014 onwards, those fleeing were escaping the worst. The fundamentalists, as well as other armed extremist groups, had destroyed Sufi shrines in Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Raqqa in Syria, as well as in northern Iraq. The escapees feared becoming targets too. 

“Sufis don’t tend to violence or extremism - indeed, on the contrary, Daesh killed lots of Sufis because they don’t have extreme beliefs, and set about destroying their places of worship,” said Hikmet, 40, an assistant governor in Anbar province. 

“We faced a lot of difficulties because the people [escaping] were in a really bad way psychologically, as well as having gone without food and needing somewhere to shelter.” The IDPs were taken to a camp known as al Bustan - the orchard in Arabic - on the outskirts of Baghdad. 

They remained on the land, owned by a Sufi sheikh, for the next three years, aided by volunteers like Hikmet. Baghdad’s Sufis helped the fleeing families and along with the UN provided shelter, food and clothes. Some also used their metalwork skills to build shelters. 

“I felt it was a religious duty,” said one man attending the Thursday Sufi prayers, who gave his name as Abu Ali. “I would have felt embarrassed in front of God, if I had just stayed in my warm bed at night, while others had nothing.” 

The Sufi and other IDPs accommodated at al Bustan began returning to their homes in Anbar and Saladin provinces during 2017. But not all have been able to settle back in the places they fled from. Some have been displaced yet again, having returned to homes made uninhabitable by damage from the conflict. 

According to Hikmet, they have instead gone to shelter with relatives whose homes were not destroyed. The Sufi community’s situation sheds light on the wider issue of Iraq’s internally displaced populations. 

According to the International Organization for Migration, 1.8 million people remain uprooted within Iraq. Last year 120,000 people had to move for a second time, following failed attempts to return to their original homes, like those whom Hikmet describes as settling with relatives. About a third of displaced Iraqis live in camps, with most of the others settling in private homes. A fraction live in mosques, churches, schools, and unfinished or abandoned buildings. 

“Recent studies show that two-thirds of remaining IDPs are unwilling or unable to go home as their homes are still destroyed, there are very few employment opportunities, and because of fear of insecurity in the area of origin, or tribal disputes that have resulted in stigmatisation or blocked return,” Alexandra Saieh, advocacy manager at the Norwegian Refugee Council in Iraq, told TRT World. 

“We’re seeing secondary displacement and it’s happening across the country. In camps in [the northern province] Nineweh, IDPs have tried to go home, left the camps and have now returned, simply because they did not have the resources to rebuild their homes. The camp is simply a last resort.” 

Although international donors and investors pledged some $30 billion for Iraq’s reconstruction at a conference in Kuwait last year, people on the ground said funds still fall short. “The money from the Kuwait conference has not come online as quickly as expected, and there doesn’t appear to be any sort of public tracking system to see where these funds are going, how much has been received and how much the government is still waiting for,” said Saieh. 

Knowing that their homes have been destroyed, some members of the displaced Sufi community are now setting up permanently in Baghdad. Burhan al Janabi, 40, held up pictures on his phone of his destroyed home near Tikrit in Saladin province, where he managed a water factory. He had returned to visit a few days previously, but is not planning to go back for good. 

“Daesh does not like us [Sufi] dervishes,” he said, describing how he had to flee in 2014 as Daesh gained ground. “It was my town, and I am sad I cannot go back.” For now, he attends prayers at the Baghdad tekkiyeh up to twice a week, and is building a new life. “God knows what will happen,” he added. 

Others have also made Thursday prayers a new focus, resigned to the fact that they are unable to return home. Taxi driver Saleh Ahmed described how he was pushed out of his home near Ramadi by Daesh advances in 2014. “I come here to the tekkiyeh every Monday and Thursday,” he said, balancing a grandson on his hip. 

“I want to stay in Baghdad now - I feel more comfortable here. The issue of displaced people is a huge one for Iraq - Daesh destroyed people’s homes.” 

And while Iraqi politicians have boasted of defeating Daesh, members of the Sufi community are not only still living in limbo, but also fear a resurgence of the extremists who persecuted them. “People are scared about a return of Daesh,” said Hikmet. “They’ve been eradicated militarily, but their ideology is still there. It still needs fighting.” 

by Lizzie Porter

  • February 20, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Hundreds of thousands of families are now waiting to return to Mosul. But the city remains scattered with bombs and unexploded ordnance, making moving around freely extremely dangerous. 

Currently, the Danish Demining Group (DDG) is one of very few organisations working to clear mines and unexploded ordnance in Mosul – by no means an easy task. 

Although almost two years have passed since Islamic State lost control over Mosul, millions are still displaced from their homes without any prospect of returning any time soon. The biggest obstacle is the huge amount of unexploded ordnance, improvised explosive devices or booby traps (a trap whereby explosives are hidden in another object, such as a doll, refrigerator or a toilet). 

They can be found in houses and gardens, by the roadsides, in fields and parks, as well as in schools and hospitals. Mosul is the area of Iraq that has been most severely affected by the devastation of war. The city used to be the third largest in Iraq, with 1,4 million inhabitants, but nine months of fierce fighting between Islamic State and the Iraqi army has left especially the Western part of Mosul in ruins. 

“It is impossible not to be overwhelmed by what you see when standing on the roof of the DDG office in Mosul. Half of this sprawling city is literally levelled to the ground and it is practically impossible to move through it due to the large number of explosives hidden in the ruins”, says Lene Rasmussen from DDG. 

Approximately 130,000 Iraqi homes have been destroyed and in Mosul alone the UN estimates that because of the war, around eight million tonnes of rubble and rubbish will have to be removed. Due to the dangers involved in removing this, it is estimated that the process can take up to 10 years with the equipment and resources that are currently available. 

“For the time being, DDG is the only international NGO that has permission to work in Mosul. Our teams are experiencing a very complicated situation, to say the least. They are finding both conventional ammunition and bombs dropped from airplanes, as well as entire stockpiles of Islamic State’s improvised explosive devices. 

The hardest thing is when the improvised devices are buried underneath the ruins of houses and other buildings. Clearing these requires special equipment and armoured machines, such as for example armoured excavators. This is equipment that we currently do not have – primarily because it is very expensive”, says Lene Rasmussen. 

The conflict in Iraq over the last two decades has forced millions of men, women and children to flee. Many refugees both within and outside the country wish to return home but feel unsure of whether it is safe to do so, or whether there is in fact anything to return to. 

The many explosive remnants of war do not only make it a dangerous area to live in; their presence also slows down the development of the city and consequently makes it harder finding a job, sending children to school or getting access to health care. 

“We have worked in many conflict zones where there has been the need to clear a large number of explosive remnants of war." 

"However, in Mosul where the majority of the explosive remnants of war are improvised explosive devices – which are left behind with the intention of harming those who return –the people carrying out the clearance work are doing this work risking their own lives in the process." 

"That is also why so few of Mosul’s inhabitants have returned – they simply do not know if there are hidden bombs in their backyard, in their refrigerator or in their children’s beds”, says Lene Rasmussen. 

DDG has worked in Mosul since April 2017, where deminers have searched big parts of the city and attempted to map where the bombs and ammunition is located. DDG has also removed or destroyed more than 500,000 explosive devices, and even though that might sound like a lot, there is still a long way to go.

  • February 20, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Fighting as a pastime in a region that wrestles with conflict might seem counter-intuitive. But the women involved are throwing punches for their right to lives lived beyond rudimentary refugee camps. 

From London, Taban Shoresh founded The Lotus Flower, a charity supporting women displaced by violence in northern Iraq. “The ‘why’ was so strong in me that I didn’t even worry about the ‘how’,” she says, reflecting on the 2016 launch. 

The charity gives women an education and lessons in sewing, hairdressing, human rights. And boxing. “Some of the women there lost family to the violence; many are victims of rape, sexual slavery and abduction,” says Shoresh, 35. “Their freedom of movement is restricted and they have next to no protection against sexual violence.” 

The former digital marketing manager shares a story similar to that of the women she helps: she is a survivor of genocide. Before her family’s escape from Saddam Hussein’s grip in 1980s Kurdistan, the young Shoresh was imprisoned alongside her mother and paternal grandparents. They came chillingly close to a mass live burial when undercover members of the Kurdish resistance said: “Disappear or pretend that you’re dead. If you’re caught again, you will be killed instantly.” 

What followed was a year on the move, Shoresh and her mother dodging between different villages and hideouts before they were smuggled into Iran for safety. Her father, a Kurdish freedom fighter, survived a poisoning attempt by Hussein’s spies which led to his seeking refuge with Amnesty International and reuniting with Shoresh and her relatives in the UK in 1988. The family built a “somewhat normal” life for themselves and a relatively uneventful childhood for Shoresh. 

She navigated a successful career as a digital project manager at an asset management firm, but couldn’t shake a persistent sense of longing to do more. In 2014 she spoke as a genocide survivor in the House of Lords for Remembrance Day, the first time she had told her story publicly, and the experience triggered something of an existential crisis. 

That same year, when Isis took hold in Iraq, she felt compelled to drop everything and volunteer her help, working on the front line with the Rwanga Foundation in Iraq, where she built schools and camps for those displaced by the conflict. When Shoresh returned to London 15 months later, she “couldn’t adjust to a normal life again” and decided she had to devote her work to supporting women impacted by conflict in the region. 

The project began in Iraqi Kurdistan where 3,000 Yazidi families lived in the Rwanga refugee camp after being forced to flee Isis violence. There, men gathered in cafes and fostered friendships with others in their communities. “What we’d noticed is that there’s nothing for women and girls to do outside of their tents and cabins,” Shoresh says. “There are no places for them to just gather and learn. That makes safe social spaces crucial.” 

The Lotus Flower creates community centres for them that provide programmes in education, personal safety and employablility skills. They are taught sewing and hairdressing, practical skills they can use to earn a living in the longer-term. These programmes are coupled with lessons in how to manage money and prepare for financial independence. One of the most popular services on offer by the charity is a human rights programme. 

“We teach women that have never been to school,” says Shoresh, detailing The Lotus Flower’s adult literacy courses. “They’re 60 years old and they’re desperate to learn. Back home, they’d never had access to any kind of education.” 

Perhaps most revolutionary for the area is Shoresh’s move to introduce boxing to the women in the Rwanga camp. “I wanted to find a constructive way for them to work on their wellbeing,” she said, “and they don’t have access to structured exercise.” That’s when she heard about Cathy Brown, a retired professional boxer and certified cognitive behavioural therapist whose academy Boxology focuses on boxing and wellbeing. 

The two teamed up to create the programme Boxing Sisters. “They get to channel their emotion and it builds their confidence. Physically and mentally. You see the change in the women so quickly,” Shoresh says. Only 15 women, all at the Rwanga centre, are on the first incarnation of the programme. It’s a deliberate move, largely because women boxing is “very new” to the region and Shoresh is careful to lead the charity with cultural sensitivity. 

It’s also, however, because they’re training new recruits. The Lotus Flower centres always look to hire from the communities they serve, and they want these women to go on to qualify as boxing trainers themselves. Like the other support put on by Shoresh and her team, there’s a focus on independence and sustainable livelihood. Shoresh resolutely believes that women and girls are powerful drivers of change who can transform communities. But funding is what turns passion into activism, she says. 

Despite donors gradually moving out of the region, the charity is ploughing ahead – there are early plans to set up social enterprise cafes for women in the camps to work and socialise in. Nearly 5,000 women have been supported by The Lotus Flower since its launch less than three years ago. Shoresh tries not to get lost in numbers: she’s busy looking to open a fourth centre in Bangladesh. 

by Hannah Westwater

  • February 20, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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On the 19th May 2019, the AMAR Foundation will experience a running event like no other and will take part on the Manchester 10K. The run is known for its buzzing atmosphere, incredible supporters and the booming anthems that rock the city’s streets. Would you like to join us?

  • February 20, 2019
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Stuck between an endless waitlist for a government job and a frail private sector, Iraqi entrepreneurs are taking on staggering unemployment by establishing their own start-ups. The first murmurs of this creative spirit were felt in 2013, but Daesh's sweep across a third of the country the following year put many projects on hold. 

Now, with Daesh defeated, co-working spaces and incubators are flourishing in a country whose unemployment rate hovers around 10 per cent but whose public sector is too bloated to hire. Many self-starters begin their journey at an aptly named glass building in central Baghdad: The Station. 

There, they sip on coffee, peruse floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for ideas and grab a seat at clusters of desks where other stylish Iraqis click away at their laptops. "We're trying to create a new generation with a different state of mind," said executive director Haidar Hamzoz. "We want to tell youth that they can start their own project, achieve their dreams and not just be happy in a government job they didn't even want," he said. 

Youth make up around 60 per cent of Iraq's nearly 40 million people. After graduating from university, many spend years waiting to be appointed to a job in the government, Iraq's biggest employer. Four out of five jobs created in Iraq in recent years are in the public sector, according to the World Bank. 

And in its 2019 budget, the government proposed $52 billion in salaries, pensions, and social security for its workers - a 15 per cent jump from 2018 and more than half the total budget. But with graduates entering the workforce faster than jobs are created, many still wait indefinitely for work. Among youth, 17 per cent of men and a whopping 27 per cent of women are unemployed, the World Bank says. 

When Daesh declared Mosul its seat of power in Iraq back in 2014, resident Saleh Mahmud was forced to shutter the city's incubator for would-be entrepreneurs. With Mosul now cautiously rebuilding after the militants were ousted in 2017, Mahmud is back in business. 

"Around 600-700 youth have already passed by Mosul Space" to attend a seminar or seek out resources as they start their own ventures, said the 23-year-old. He was inspired after watching fellow Mosul University graduates hopelessly "try to hunt down a connection to get a job in the public sphere". 

"A university education isn't something that gets you a fulfilling job," he said. Another start-up, Dakkakena, is capitalising on Mosul's rebuilding spirit, too. The online shopping service delivers a lorry-full of home goods every day to at least a dozen families refurnishing after the war. 

"On the web, we can sell things for cheaper than stores because we have fewer costs, like no showrooms," said founder Yussef Al Noaime, 27. Noaime fled Daesh to the Netherlands, where he was introduced to e-commerce. When he returned home, the computer engineer partnered with another local to found their venture. 

A similar service, Miswag, was set-up in the capital Baghdad in 2014 and last year reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits. On an autumn day, some 70 young Iraqi innovators converged for a three-day workshop in Baghdad on founding start-ups. They flitted among round tables planning projects, their Arabic conversations sprinkled with English terms. 

"What we're doing is showing youth what entrepreneurship is - not necessarily so they succeed, but so they at least try," said organiser Ibrahim Al Zarari. He said attendees should understand two things: first, that the public sector is saturated. And second, that oil isn't the only resource on which Iraq - Opec's second-largest producer - should capitalise. 

More than 65 per cent of Iraq's GDP and nearly 90 per cent of state revenues hail from the oil sector. Many youth turn to it for work, but it only employs one per cent of the workforce. 

Widespread corruption and bureaucracy also weaken Iraq's appeal for private investors. The World Bank ranks it 168th out of 190 for states with a good business environment. Under current legislation, private sector employees are not offered the same labour protections or social benefits as those in the public sector. 


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