MSF works on dual front of COVID-19 and lifesaving medical care

Iraq has long suffered from war and political instability. The most recent conflict ended in 2017, when Mosul was recaptured after almost three years under the control of the Islamic State (IS) group.  

Three years later, the consequences of the conflicts in Mosul are still evident. One is the terrible impact on medical care, as many health facilities in Mosul were completely destroyed.. The city’s inhabitants are left with a fragile health system that barely meets their most basic needs. Mosul is located in Ninewa governorate, home to a population of 3.5 million, with only one hospital bed for every 3,000 people. 

When COVID-19 reached Mosul earlier this year, it was clear that the local health system would struggle to control the outbreak. Countrywide measures adopted by the Iraqi government initially succeeded in slowing its spread but, in the past two months, cases have risen steeply. In Mosul, in early August, there were 30 times more COVID-19 patients than in previous months, while cases across the country rose from 10,000 to more than 120,000. 

Soon after the pandemic was declared, MSF took the decision to support Mosul’s healthcare system’s handling of the outbreak, temporarily transforming its 62-bed post-operative care centre in the east of the city into a COVID-19 treatment facility for suspected and confirmed cases. 

MSF head nurse Ali Alzubaidi has worked in the medical facility for years caring for patients in need of extensive surgery but he now looks after people with COVID-19 symptoms. “With the emergence of the virus, we had to change our activities,” says Ali. “All the staff were trained in infection prevention and control. We adapted our treatment protocols and prepared the facility for isolating and treating COVID-19 patients. 

So far, we have received more than 769 cases including 312 confirmed patients.” On the far side of the river, in west Mosul, which bore the brunt of the destruction during the battle for the city, MSF runs a hospital providing a range of essential services, including emergency treatment and stabilisation, emergency obstetric and neonatal care, inpatient pediatric care, and mental healthcare. 

“For us, keeping such services running, even in times of COVID-19, was unquestionable,” says Dr Humam Nouri. “This is one of the few functioning hospitals in this part of the city, and the pandemic doesn’t erase all the population’s health needs.” 

The hospital is as busy as ever, says Dr Humam, who has worked in the emergency room for the past 18 months. “The number of patients we see on a daily basis has not decreased since the beginning of the pandemic,” he says. “We still see about 100 people a day, suffering from all sorts of injuries. And in the maternity ward, many women are still coming to give birth.” 

On both sides of the city – in MSF’s COVID-19 centre in east Mosul and in its hospital in west Mosul – the virus has brought additional challenges. For patients, it is harder to reach hospital since movement restrictions were imposed as part of a wider lockdown to contain the spread of the virus. 

During curfew hours, the only people to arrive are those suffering medical emergencies, while people who live beyond the city limits have to negotiate multiple checkpoints to reach medical care, with the result that some only arrive when it is too late. “I feel heartbroken when a patient arrives too late at the emergency room,” says Dr Humam. “I think these deaths are a side effect of the pandemic that people tend to underestimate.” 

The stigma associated with COVID-19 is another major issue and has a direct impact on people’s use of essential health services. “Our health promotion teams have talked to dozens of patients. They find that misinformation and social stigma regarding COVID-19 causes reluctance to seek healthcare for patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms,” says Itta Helland-Hansen, MSF's field coordinator in the COVID-19 treatment centre in east Mosul. 

“We need to challenge misconceptions and to insist on the fact that the earlier COVID-19 symptoms are addressed, the better it is for the patients themselves and for the community at large.” “Our teams dedicate time to sharing information with patients about how the disease spreads and how to stay safe,” says Ali Alzubaidi. “But we can expect the numbers of COVID-19 patients to carry on rising if people continue to forgo protective measures and delay seeing a doctor when they get sick.” 
To tackle the issue of misinformation, MSF recently started an online campaign in Mosul to raise awareness about health precautions that people can take to protect themselves against COVID-19. 

Elsewhere in Iraq, MSF is also working to help the health system cope with the pandemic. In the capital Baghdad – the city hardest hit by the virus – MSF is supporting two COVID-19 treatment centres (Ibn Al-Khateeb and Al-kindi) and providing training on patient triage and infection prevention and control, and on-the-job coaching to staff in Al-Kindi intensive care unit. 

MSF teams have been providing training sessions, with a focus on infection prevention control, at health facilities in Erbil, Dohuk and Ninewa governorates. MSF has also set up a 20-bed isolation and treatment facility in Laylan camp in preparation for a potential spike of COVID-19 cases there. MSF has kept its regular medical services running in Kirkuk governorate, where it provides much needed healthcare for mothers and patients with non-communicable diseases. 

“What we’re doing in Mosul is just one example of what we’re trying to do on a larger scale across the country,” says Marc van der Mullen, MSF head of mission in Iraq. “In a country like Iraq, maintaining our existing services and responding to emergencies are equally important right now. We have no choice but to adapt our operations and try to work on both fronts.”

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Yazidi community suffers one crisis after another

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on the Yazidi community in the Sinjar district of northwest Iraq. Although there are not many cases recorded in the area, the restrictive measures adopted in Iraq (as in many other countries worldwide) to curb the spread of the virus are burdening the daily lives and wellbeing of an already vulnerable community. 

In 2014, the Islamic State (IS) group swept through the Sinjar region mounting what Yazidis, a religious minority mainly living in north-west Iraq, refer to as a ‘genocidal’ campaign against them. 

The IS militants slaughtered thousands of men and abducted an estimated six thousand women and children, either selling them into servitude or forcing them into sexual slavery. More than six years on, and after the city was taken back from IS in 2015, many families have been left with mental and physical scars. Some people are still looking for loved ones who went missing or mourning those who died, and many are fighting to rebuild their livelihoods. 

The spread of COVID-19 has brought strict movement restrictions between the cities across Iraq. In Sinjar, these restrictions have immensely affected the economic situation and daily lives of local people, and in turn, their mental wellbeing. Most people in Sinjar were already living well below the poverty line, with widespread unemployment. Following the arrival of COVID-19, those who once had jobs are forced to stay at home, unable to work and provide for their families. 

Aeed Nasir has been working with MSF in the Sinuni General Hospital as a nurse supervisor since 2018. Aeed is married with four children and lives in Chamshko camp for internally displaced people in Dohuk governorate. Aeed hasn’t seen his family in five months as he is unable to go back to Dohuk under the current movement restrictions. 

“The majority of people in Sinjar are either farmers or do temporary labourer jobs outside the city lasting for one or two days at a time,” said Aeed. 

“The coronavirus has stopped all the businesses, and people can’t travel outside the town for work. The farmer’s harvest is not even close to yielding the efforts and money spent on it by the farmer, and merchants from other governorates can’t come to buy the products and take them to the other governorates. Hence the crops and vegetables end up rotten. Before the coronavirus, people had very little income. Now there’s none.” 

For many people, losing the ability to provide enough for their families, alongside having too much free time, living with uncertainty about what the future might bring, and not being able to visit family members, have caused feelings of frustration and stress. This has particularly adverse consequences for people who are already trying to overcome traumatic experiences from their past. 

“We have seen an increase in domestic violence; men are sitting at home without work and they are forced to spend a lot more time with the family than they are used to,” said Phoebe Yonkeu, MSF’s mental health activity manager in Sinuni. 

“After the easing of curfews, we received many women who said their spouses had become aggressive towards them and their children. Aggressive behaviour and anger towards family members is a way to channel/vent their frustrations and anxieties. We have also observed a surge of people suffering from depression in Sinjar, and we believe the lockdown has played a big role in that. Over the last few months, we have received many patients with suicidal thoughts and attempts, which are severe symptoms of depression.” 

With the imposed movement restrictions, access to healthcare is another big challenge the people in Sinjar struggle with. “Before the curfews were imposed, people who needed specialised medical services used to be referred to the hospitals in Duhok governorate in Iraqi Kurdistan,” said Shanna Morris, a doctor with MSF in Sinuni. 

“Now, people can’t travel to Dohuk and the only destination available for them is Mosul. To access Mosul for medical needs, they must travel by ambulance so they’re allowed to cross checkpoints. On average, it takes four hours before a patient reaches the hospitals in Mosul. Many Yazidi people also have reservations about going to Mosul either due to the events of 2014, or because many of them don’t speak Arabic and it’s hard for them to communicate.” 

For many people living in the villages in Sinjar, Sinuni General Hospital – where MSF provides emergency and maternity services – is the only option for healthcare services. But fewer women are coming because they are not allowed through the checkpoints to get to the hospital. 

“Our outpatient department numbers have greatly decreased,” said Adelaide Debrah , a midwife working for MSF in Sinuni. 

“Women are not coming for antenatal or postnatal care and family planning because they cannot cross the checkpoints; they are not considered an emergency. After some recent easing of movement restrictions, we received more women with unwanted pregnancies who told us that they ran out of family planning items and medication.” 

Fear of instability 

On top of COVID-19, recent airstrikes in the region and ongoing military campaigns against groups affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) are causing further mental stress and people fear the area will become a warzone again. 

“The day the fighter jets bombed the Sinjar mountain, I was in Sinuni. The first rocket terrified me; I didn’t know what was going on. The first thing that came to my mind was that IS was back in Sinjar.” said Aeed. 

“After some phone calls, I learnt that it was Turkish bombings of PKK-affiliated groups. The house I stay in is very close to one of their bases and out of fear of the base being bombed, I left the house. I wandered around Sinuni and heard women and children screaming. People were carrying their children and trying to move far away from the bases. Now, people have stopped visiting the mountainous areas completely, out of fear of being targeted by warplanes.” 

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc, many people have lost what little hope they had left.“The Yazidi people still haven’t forgotten what happened to them in 2014,” said Aeed. 

“The consequences of the carnage still dominate the area, with mass graves still being found. I see hopelessness in people’s faces. Some don’t even have enough money to buy food. It happens many times that we – the hospital staff – collect donations ourselves for some patients. There is nothing in Sinjar, even the water is not suitable for drinking sometimes. How do you think people feel when they have nothing?”

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Music and PTSD in concert at New Zealand's University of Canterbury

A new music work exploring post-war PTSD is one of the unexpected offerings in a programme of premieres on Sunday 16 August at 2pm, when New Zealand's University of Canterbury (UC) School of Music presents Arts Centre Chamber Series - cLoud Collective in the Great Hall of the Arts Centre on Sunday 16 August. 

UC music masters graduate Alex van den Broek composed After War after learning more about the horrors and aftermath of war. "I don't understand the need or desire for war, so I guess in a perverse way I try to come to terms with this by reading a lot about war and the history that follows after them," he says. 

While researching PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), van den Broek found a video of war veteran Sgt. Jimmy Massey on Youtube and sought approval to use an audio sample in his composition. He hopes that the work will make the audience think about the ramifications of war and about peace advocacy. 

A previous work piece of his, Order 81, was about war profiteering in the aftermath of the Iraq war. Order 81 refers to one of the 100 laws that were implemented in Iraq by the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority. 

Contemporary music is a vehicle for exploring these issues. "Art is not only a personal expression, it's an expression of society at that time," van den Broek says. "It helps us to understand what it means to be part of humankind. It's imperative that art is continually created so we can keep up the conversation about being human on a deeper level." 

"I always start with something that I feel strongly about. Most of the time this is a musical sound. It could be a melody, chord or specific musical texture. I'll need to draw endless inspiration from this starting point so it's important I start with something strong. Even this piece, (After War) which is about something specific, started with a melody and a set of chords." 

UC’s School of Music, and the cLoud Collective - founded by School of Music faculty Professor Mark Menzies (violin/viola), Dr Justin DeHart (percussion) and Dr Reuben de Lautour (piano) - play an important role in performing and creating new work in Christchurch, van den Broek says. 

"The School of Music at UC is committed to performing new work and creating new artists who can think for themselves in this continually changing world. The cLoud Collective put enormous effort into each of their concerts and between them all they have an extraordinary amount of experience, skill and musicianship. It is a pleasure and an honour to have them available to us in Christchurch, to teach the next generation of artists and to perform the latest works for us as an audience." 

cLoud Collective will also perform a South Island premiere of Kingfisher, by New Zealand composer Salina Fisher, two other world premieres by local composers Robert Bryce and Pieta Hextall, and two new works by ensemble member Reuben de Lautour. The programme will also feature works by David Liptak and Pierre Boulez. This is the second of a series of three concerts that UC School of Music present in the Great Hall this year. 

Artistic cultures need constant renewal 

Dr de Latour was inspired by "how music and sound help us to recreate and reinvent our memories of things, places, events, and people" in his composition An Auscultation of Reminiscence premiering at the same concert on 16 August, which he will also perform as part of the cLoud Collective. 

"It’s great to have a close relationship with the performers; you have a chance to work with them during the creation of a new work, try things out, and get suggestions that you can immediately put into practice before premiering the work," he says. 

Lovers of contemporary music are in for a treat. "For this work I’ll be setting up an octophonic (eight channel surround) sound system in the Great Hall and diffusing both electronic sounds and the sounds of Mark’s processed, or digitally altered, viola through this; I hope this immersive experience will bring something a little different that the audience can take away with them." 

"Our mission as cLoud Collective is to be a part of that process of constant renewal; in this concert we are proud to present four premieres of new works by composers based in Christchurch." Arts Centre Chamber Series - cLoud Collective is on 16 August at 2pm in the Great Hall, Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora. Tickets are $20/10, available from the Arts Centre's website and on the door.

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Aid to the Church in Need is sending 250,000 euro in food aid to Lebanon

International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has announced an emergency 250,000 euro food aid package for victims of the massive August 4 explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. 

The ACN grant will focus on poor families most affected by the explosion, which devastated the port area of the Lebanese capital and the adjacent regions of Mar Maroun and Achrafieh. 

At least 135 people died and another 5,000 were injured when a warehouse storing some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded Aug 4 evening. Officials are investigating the cause of the explosion. 

Fr Samer Nassif, a Lebanese priest, told Aid to the Church in Need that the Christian area of Beirut is “completely devastated,” with at least ten churches destroyed. 

“In one second, more damage was done to the Christian area of Beirut than during the long years of the civil war. We have to rebuild everything again from the ground up.” 

ACN estimates some 300,000 people have been left homeless. Additionally, many offices, schools, hospitals, and shops were completely destroyed in the explosion. 

The priest stressed that amid the country’s prolonged economic crisis and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon is ill-equipped to face this new emergency. International aid is urgently needed to meet people’s basic needs, they said. 

Lebanon is currently facing its worst eco nomic crisis in decades, with corruption and financial mismanagement leading to an unprecedented devaluation of its currency, hyperinflation, rising unemployment and banking restrictions. 

The health system is also in crisis. Power outages and street protests had rocked the country a few months before the coronavirus pandemic broke out. 

In recent years, Lebanon has been hosting large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, many of them Christian, as well as Palestinian refugees. According to official data, Lebanon currently hosts almost 2 million refugees, representing about a third of its total population. 

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, has called on the inter national community for aid. 

“Beirut is a devastated city. Beirut, the bride of the East and the beacon of the West, is wounded,” he said. “It’s a war scene: there is destruction and desolation in all its streets, its neighbourhoods and houses.” 

Aid to the Church in Need also called for prayer for all those affected by the explosion and facing other challenges. 

“We pray for the victims and their families and we pray for Lebanon so that, with the commitment of all its social, political and religious components, it can face this tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the serious crisis it is going through.”

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Online festival to showcase Iraqi films to global audiences

Later this month, a free online film festival will run that is dedicated to independent films both from and about Iraq. 

The Independent Iraqi Film Festival will screen a total of 13 films between Friday, August 21, to Friday, August 28. The free and online programme will screen films at 7.30pm UAE time throughout the festival via its official website. 

The festival is run by a team of volunteers, including Shahnaz Dulaimy, a feature film editor who has worked on a number of award-winning productions including Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb and Annemarie Jacir’s When I Saw You

Also involved is Israa Al-Kamali, a poet whose work explores themes of identity, exile, trauma and deconstructing language; Ahmed Habib, who is part of the editorial team of Shakomako.net; and Roisin Tapponi, an Irish-Iraqi writer who founded the Habibi Collective, a platform dedicated to shining a spotlight on female filmmakers in the Middle East. 

“The essence of what we want to do through IIFF is to empower directors, actors, screenwriters, producers, designers, sound artists and other creatives to tell the story of Iraq, the resilience of its people, and the breadth of its culture to a global audience,” the organisers said in statement posted on the festival's Instagram page. 

The festival’s organisers launched an open call for submissions from Iraqi filmmakers in early June. Following the submission deadline on June 21, the team went through more than 80 submissions. 

What are some of the films screening? 

The programme includes a number of features by established filmmakers, including the thriller Baghdad in My Shadow by the director Samir. The film was presented out of competition at the Locarno Film Festival in 2019. It brings together three different characters who visit an Iraqi cafe in London. 

The festival also features the documentary Mirrors of Diaspora, by Kasim Abid, a story of seven Iraqi artists who live outside the country, detailing their exile, creativity, alienation, memories and nostalgia. 

Mohamed Al-Daradji's 2008 War, Love, God and Madness will also be streamed: the film follows the director's efforts in making a film in Iraq during the war after having been outside of the country for many years. 

There are also a number of short films by up-and-coming filmmakers scheduled to screen during the festival, including Sabeya by Dhyaa Joda, Mouthwash by Reman Sadani and Um Abdullah by Sahar Al Sawaf. 

There will also be a talk on Sunday, August 23 featuring members of both the Habibi Collective and Shakomako.net, discussing the power of film to inspire social change. For more information about the festival programme, visit iiffestival.com. 

by Razmig Bedirian

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Iraqi medical aid arrives in blasted Beirut

An airplane carrying 20 tons of medical aid from the Iraqi government landed in Beirut on Wednesday evening to support those wounded in the city’s recent deadly explosion, Iraq’s oil minister told Iraqi state-media. 

“Under the guidance of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, an Iraqi delegation led by the oil minister arrived in Beirut with 20 tons of medical aids,” Ihsan Abdul-Jabar announced on Wednesday of his visit.

“The delegation consists of 15 senior doctors to provide support to the hospitals in Lebanon.” Abdul-Jabar says the medical assistance from Baghdad is aimed at showing “love and brotherhood” to the people of Lebanon during the current crisis. 

The Iraqi oil minister also informed the Lebanese Prime Minister on Wednesday in an official meeting that Baghdad also aims to provide “oil and fuel for Beirut,” according to state media. 

A twin blast rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut on Tuesday, killing at least 135 people, and wounding around 5,000 others, according to Lebanon's health minister Hamad Hassan. The numbers are expected to rise as debris is cleared across the city. 

President Michel Aoun attributed the blast to 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate stored at the city's port since 2013, prompting angry reactions from civilians already frustrated with the political establishment. 

At least 300,000 have been left homeless, according to Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud, who said at least half the city has been damaged. 

Hospitals and NGOS have appealed for blood donors as they struggle to cope with the number of casualties. Photos shared on social media show health workers attending to patients in car parks after escaping damaged buildings, already at full capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The blast has devastated the economic heart of Lebanon during a time of unprecedented financial crisis, with the value of the Lebanese pound plummeting since October 2019, when anti-government protests erupted across the country, leaving many jobless and unable to feed their families. 

by Lawk Ghafuri

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Iraqi religious bodies house patients to help fight COVID-19

The holy Shi’ite city of Kerbala, which used to host pilgrims from all around the world, is now quarantining dozens of COVID-19 patients in apartment buildings owned by Imam Hussein shrine, one of Iraq’s most powerful religious authorities. 

The shrine has also built 10 medical centres across the country and aims to build 10 more, to be put permanently at the disposal of the health ministry, adding 2,000 beds to the country’s total capacity, said an official at the shrine. 

Iraq is increasingly relying on religious authorities to support its battered healthcare system as hospitals grapple with an influx of coronavirus patients and a shortage of supplies. Decades of chronic underinvestment, corruption and war have left the public health sector of Iraq, dependent on donations. 

A health ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment. The shrine, headquartered in the city of Kerbala, is one of several Shi’ite organizations in Iraq that are helping out. Financially powerful and with a large degree of autonomy, religious authorities have been building clinics, importing medical gear and distributing oxygen over the past few months. 

“When we see that the services available are not sufficient, we have to step in”, said Afdhal al-Shammi a senior official at the Imam Hussein Shrine. Their primary mission consists in managing Islamic endowments - shrines and mosques - with a big part of their financing coming from pilgrims’ and philanthropists’ donations. 

Iraq is seeing new infections rise by about 3000 a day, according to figures from the health ministry, with a total of nearly 140,000 cases. It has seen more than 5,000 deaths. In the holy shi’ite city of Najaf where cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is based, his social care foundation is helping out. 

“Today, not only in Najaf, but in Iraq in general, we lack good infrastructure, hospital beds, hospitals, specialized clinics,” the director general of Najaf’s health directorate, Radwan Kamel al-Kindi told Reuters. 

Private companies are also getting involved, such as through the building of the country’s first drive-in coronavirus testing centre in Najaf which health authorities now run. It offers testing for free. 

Reuters

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Suicide exposes the ongoing trauma of Halabja

The picture shows a man, his face wrapped in scarves. He is lying on the ground next to a wall, a baby in his arms. It was 20 March 1988 and Saddam Hussein's forces had launched a chemical weapons attack on the town of Halabja, in northern Iraq. 

Omar Khawar was a Kurdish father trying to save his son. Instead, they both died, and the image shook the world. The attack on Halabja, which cost around 5,000 lives, was the single worst incident in the Iraqi government's wider Anfal campaign, which targeted Iraq's Kurdish region between 1986 and 1989, killing as many as 182,000 people. 

It left thousands of survivors with long-term psychological and health conditions. Last Sunday, the body of 39-year-old Kawa Salih, a survivor of the 1988 massacre, was found in Halabja park. He had hanged himself from a statue. 

According to a relative speaking to the local NRT news outlet, he had been suffering from chronic health problems. In a note left by Salih, he said he lived in "grief and pain" and attacked the ruling political class in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). 

"I have only one regret - I couldn't see your humiliation and end," he wrote. Salih's death has brought to attention the failure of the KRG, the autonomous administration in northern Iraq set up after the fall of Saddam Hussein, to provide physical and psychological help for the thousands of survivors of the 1988 attack. 

Speaking to NRT, the head of Halabja's Martyrs and Anfal Victims General Directorate said that each year several survivors of the attack take their own lives, often because they had trouble coping with chronic health problems. 

Currently, there is only one organisation in the city of Halabja that exists to provide mental health treatment for survivors of the massacre, the Jiyan Foundation, an NGO created in 2005 that helps the all too many survivors of various traumas in northern Iraq. 

Ibrahim Hama Saeed Mohammed is a psychotherapist for the Jiyan Foundation in Halabja specialising in trauma therapy. He is also, along with his family, a survivor of the 1988 massacre himself. He told Middle East Eye that the foundation saw around 2,000 patients regularly and struggled to provide the kind of support that was needed to cope with an issue that has lingered for more than 30 years. 

"There are really limited human resources, there are only a handful of psychotherapists. So we cannot offer psychological support for the whole city, we can't do this, it's impossible for us," he said. The primary problems facing survivors of the massacre are anxiety and depression, but also post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

The psychotherapist said that there was a lack of awareness of mental illness, particularly among older people, who were often more likely to go to religious leaders if they had problems. Another major problem, he added, was trans-generational trauma, in which parents apparently passed on aspects of their trauma to their children. 

"For example, now I have a patient with PTSD, and once I invited her daughter. She wasn't even born at [the time of the massacre] and yet she was able to narrate the events so clearly she cried several times. So this is what happens here," Saeed Mohammed said. 

'The government doesn't care at all' 

The Halabja massacre has become an event of intense historical importance for Kurds, both in Iraq and internationally, and the KRG has sought to assist survivors through policies and by setting up institutions to aid them. 

A specific institution, the Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, exists to provide, in its own words, "material and moral care" to survivors of the 1988 killings, as well to the families of those who died fighting in the line of service up to the present day. 

The government also provides monthly salaries for the survivors and has constructed houses for them. But many thousands of people have health needs that are not being provided for, and Saeed Mohammed said there was no funding forthcoming to deal with these lingering problems. 

"The government doesn't care at all," he said. "Many people have terminal diseases, eye disease, skin disease, respiratory disease, but there are no specialist places or people trained here to deal with them." 

He said his own mother suffered from a number of these problems. "I'm a survivor, I and my family are survivors, so I can understand them, I know what the problems are," he said. "The government doesn't support us. It doesn't support affected people." 

A study carried out in 2018 that interviewed a cross-section of Halabja survivors found that all those interviewed had "no, or only poor, access to healthcare services and limited access to specialist care". It also found that "all reported [a] lack of financial resources to obtain treatment". 

In 2019, the KRG did open what it called a "special hospital" for the purpose of helping survivors of the massacre. But Saeed Mohammed dismissed this, saying that in practice there was no difference between that hospital and others in terms of the specialist care needed, an issue that has also been raised by the Anfal ministry. 

He said gestures like this, as well as the highly publicised 30th anniversary commemorations in 2018, were largely just for show. "They are doing this just for the media. To attract the attention of European countries. It's not practical things, it's just speech," he said. "It's worth nothing for the affected survivors." 

Not the last genocide 

The 1988 killings were far from the last massacres carried out in Iraq, nor even the most recent classified as a "genocide". In 2014, the Islamic State (IS) group swept across northern Iraq, capturing much of the country. 

One of its most brutal acts was the mass killing of as many as 5,000 Kurdish Yazidis in the province of Sinjar, less than 400km from Halabja. The act, which the UN later deemed a genocide, resonated across the Kurdish region, drawing horrific parallels for many. 

Kamal Chomani, a Kurdish political analyst and non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said a major factor in the continued collective trauma of the Halabja survivors was the failure to hold to account those complicit in the attack or pursue the international actors involved in supplying the chemicals used. 

"The catastrophic problems of the KRG and Iraq have led Iraqis and the international community to almost forget about the massacres [Saddam Hussein's] regime did against the Kurds," he said. "If Iraq, the KRG and international community had understood the impacts of the Anfal and Halabja massacres, the Islamic State group might have not been able to massacre the Yazidis and other Iraqis." 

By Alex MacDonald

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Yezidis still abandoned by Erbil, Baghdad and international community

Iraq’s Yezidi community remains overlooked by the international community and Erbil and Baghdad authorities six years on from the genocide, Yezidi survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad said in a conference with UN officials on Monday. 

“We have repeatedly pleaded to the governments in Erbil and Baghdad, as well as the international community to rebuild our hometown [Shingal],” Murad said. “But after so many years we feel that the international community and governments in Erbil and Baghdad abandoned us.” 

In the summer of 2014, Islamic State (ISIS) extremists swept across swathes of Syria and Iraq. In August that year, they attacked the Yezidi homeland of Shingal in Nineveh province, committing genocide against the ethno-religious minority. Hundreds of thousands of Yezidis fled from the militants, but not everyone escaped. More than 1,000 were killed and 6,417 were captured by the militants, with women and children sold into sexual slavery. 

Murad criticized the international community for ignoring the Yezidis, reminding them that the international community is helping ISIS reach its “goal” in failing to help survivors. “We know Iraq is facing economic challenges,” Murad said. “But there are tangible and sustainable actions that can be taken into consideration to help Yezidis.” 

“I ask the governments in Erbil and Baghdad to solve the security issues in Sinjar [Shingal], and keep helping the missing Yezidis,” Murad added. “Yezidis deserve support to rebuild, as they cannot wait for another six years to recover.” As of this month, 3,530 Yezidis have been rescued or escaped ISIS, and 2,887 are still missing, according to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s office documenting the genocide. 

Six years later, the vast majority of Yezidis continue to live in a protracted state of displacement. An array of armed forces, including the Iraqi army, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi) and PKK-affiliated groups have vied for control of Shingal, and many deem it too unsafe to return home. 

"ISIS was responsible for this devastation but the rest of us are responsible for what we did or did not do since we knew about it" human rights lawyer Amal Clooney added on Monday. Clooney also explained that “no progress” has been made in seeking international justice for the crimes committed against the community, with no state offering to host international trials. 

“Survivors tell me that they cannot understand how six years after the genocide, the vast majority of ISIS fighters can simply go on with their lives,” Clooney added. “Doing nothing is not only wrong, it dangerous because these fighters are not going anywhere and their toxic ideology continues to spread,” she added. 

Although Baghdad announced the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq in December 2017, remnants of the group have returned to their earlier insurgency tactics, ambushing security forces, kidnapping and executing suspected informants, and extorting money from vulnerable rural populations, particularly in the disputed territories. 

by Lawk Ghafuri

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International community must prioritize justice for Yazidi community

Six years after ISIL launched a genocidal campaign against the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq, the international community must live up to its promise to deliver justice, survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate Nadia Murad told a virtual event on Monday marking the anniversary. 

The young human rights activist, who was among thousands of Yazidi women forced into sexual slavery by the terrorist group, reminded countries that the impacts of its atrocities endure to this day. 

Outrage and inaction 

Ms. Murad said although 100,000 Yazidis have returned to their homeland in Sinjar, in northern Iraq, they lack vital services such as healthcare and education. Meanwhile, scores more remain in camps, nearly 3,000 kidnapped women and girls are still missing, and dozens of mass graves have yet to be exhumed. 

“The world watched in outrage and demanded that tangible action be taken to end the genocide. But six years later, the international community has failed to keep its commitments to protect those most vulnerable, especially women and children,” said Ms. Murad, who now lives in Germany. 

Justice is possible now 

The commemorative event was held to ensure the world never forgets how ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as Da’esh, tried to erase the Yazidi community through sexual violence, mass executions, forced conversion and other crimes. 

It was co-hosted by Nadia’s Initiative, an organization founded by Ms. Murad, alongside Germany and the United Arab Emirates. ISIL committed “heinous crimes” against all Iraqis, the country’s Ambassador, Mohammad Hussein Ali Bahr Aluloom, told the gathering. 

“Da’esh tried to wipe out Yazidis in an attempt to destroy Iraqi diversity and peaceful coexistence that is guaranteed by our constitution,” he stated. Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney recalled that the international community established tribunals for genocides in Germany, Bosnia and Rwanda, while the International Criminal Court is currently investigating crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar. 

She told diplomats Yazidi survivors deserve no less. “Doing nothing is not only wrong, it is dangerous because these fighters are not going anywhere and their toxic ideology continues to spread,” said Ms. Clooney. “And justice is possible now, just as it has been possible before, if only it is made a priority.” 

Resolve differences now 

The UN’s top official in Iraq urged the authorities in Baghdad and in the autnomous Kurdish region in the north to resolve their differences to better support the Yazidis. 

“Stable governance and security structures are crucial foundations for the community to rebuild and thrive,” said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). 

“So, once again, I call on the governments in Baghdad and Erbil to urgently resolve this file, placing Sinjaris’ interests first and foremost.” 

Support Iraqi draft law 

Two years ago, the United Nations established an Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL, known by the acronym UNITAD. Special Adviser Karim Khan outlined some of its activities, which include helping with exhumations, collecting evidence, and working with various authorities in Iraq to better understand Da’esh criminal networks. 

However, he explained that UNITAD is “an investigative team on the lookout for a court” so that fair trials for crimes against the Yazidis can be held. Mr. Khan commended a draft law presented in November which would allow Iraq to prosecute acts committed by Da’esh as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. 

“In my respectful view, this is critically important. If we don’t call it for what it was; if we don’t label the crimes correctly, we are doomed, or at least there is a real risk they may reoccur,” he said. “And I think in terms of giving confidence to the Yazidi community, the courage and the stamina of the international community to create that piece of legal architecture would go a long way.”

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