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In Iraq, You Lose a Life, You Lose a World, says a Reporter’s Notebook

Irbil and other Kurdish towns are straining at the seams and, unsurprisingly, there is some anti-Arab sentiment in Kurdistan

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A handful of Mosul children engage with reporters. VOA

-by Jamie Dettmer

IRBIL, IRAQ, November 05, 2016: On the night I arrived in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital, a Cuban band was playing in the restaurant at my hotel. The first song I heard it perform with a distinctive Caribbean verve was John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The plea for a world without killing seemed highly appropriate, if forlorn.

Kurdistan is part of Mesopotamia, a cradle of civilisation that witnessed such crucial developments in human history as the invention of the wheel, the first planting of cereal crops and the first use of cursive script. The origins of modern medicine and mathematics can be traced here. Early Sumerian inhabitants were among the first to pose existential questions such as: Who are we? Where are we? How did we get here? These helped to shape ancient Greek philosophy and subsequently our modern world.

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Sadly, Mesopotamia has seen more than its share of devastating war through the centuries — pitching tribes, races, religions, countries and empires against each other in terrible cycles of conflict, revenge and retaliation.

And here we are, once again witnessing what that means in human terms.

Coming to terms

As we reporters dash around clutching old tools of the trade (a pen and notebook) and those for a high-tech age (mobile phones, digital cameras, sleek laptops and even small camera-equipped drones), we can seem all too brash and brusque, I suspect, to those whose lives have been upended and thrust into turmoil and pain.

We have deadlines to meet. We don’t tread lightly — although we should be doing so, considering the number of mines and booby-trap bombs Islamic State fighters have planted all around. We shove our cameras and audio recorders in the faces of bewildered and grieving people who have endured days of hearth-thumping, stomach-turning, ground-shaking shelling, who have seen relatives killed or severely injured, and soldiers who have seen their buddies blown apart. We can, in short, come across as callous.

All I can say in defense of our reportorial bluster and striving is that the people we film and write about stay with us. The stories that fix in my mind — and play on the minds of my colleagues, I know from conversations with them — are all too often ones about children.

Two youngsters from Mosul play during a sandstorm in the Khazir camp for displaced civilians. VOA
Two youngsters from Mosul play during a sandstorm in the Khazir camp for displaced civilians. VOA

Thinking of the children

One child is on my mind these days: 3-year-old Noor, whose left leg was terribly injured in an airstrike two weeks ago as the Mosul offensive started. I wrote about her earlier this week.

Kurdish surgeons in Irbil are struggling to save the toddler’s leg and she’s gone through several operations. As I and my fixer, the indefatigable and kindly Dlshad Zamua, a professor of archaeology, were reporting in Mosul on Thursday, he heard that surgeons had to amputate three of the girl’s toes and remain unsure how she will progress.

Aside from Noor’s suffering now, I wonder how the injury will alter her life, how it will affect her character, her marriage prospects and the chances she’ll have kids herself. And how will that affect her family, not just in terms of the distress they feel now but through the coming years? Individual wounds injure entire families. A death doesn’t just cut off one life, the absence reduces possibilities. The Talmud says when you lose a life, you lose a world.

Sadly, of course, there are hundreds of children like Noor in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Dlshad has been busy collecting money to buy Noor an iPad mini. Norwegian Kurds sent him money after reading VOA’s story about the Sunni girl. A Kurdish woman contacted Dlshad to say she would buy any clothes the toddler needs.

Surgeons are struggling to save the leg of three-year-old Noor after an airstrike injured her two weeks ago as the Mosul offensive started. “I want to see it, I want to see what happened to me,” she told her aunt. VOA
Surgeons are struggling to save the leg of three-year-old Noor after an airstrike injured her two weeks ago as the Mosul offensive started. “I want to see it, I want to see what happened to me,” she told her aunt. VOA

Warm welcome

The Kurdish response to the thousands of mainly Sunni Muslims streaming from Mosul has been warm. Peshmerga fighters at the checkpoints along the Mosul-Irbil highway greet the displaced civilians with cries of “on your eyes,” a traditional welcome.

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The Iraqi Kurds have shown great patience with the huge numbers of displaced in their midst. Some 800,000 people – mainly Sunni Muslims, but also Christians and Kurdish Shi’ites – flooded into Kurdistan in 2014 when Islamic State militants overran Mosul and declared their caliphate of fear straddling Iraq and Syria. More than 40,000 have arrived since the Mosul offensive began more than two weeks ago. Judging by the streams of thousands leaving Mosul Thursday, there will be more waves as the fighting goes deeper into the city.

Irbil and other Kurdish towns are straining at the seams and, unsurprisingly, there is some anti-Arab sentiment in Kurdistan. It tends to bubble up when IS fighters launch assaults on Kurdish towns or when there’s any evidence of collusion between attackers and displaced Arabs in Kurdistan. Occasionally, you can see anti-Arab stickers on cars, and, much as in any other country, deeply unpleasant racist comments can be read on social media.

But considering the strain on cash-strapped Kurdistan – public-sector salaries have been cut by three-quarters, and peshmerga, doctors, teachers and municipal workers are waiting still for their meager August salaries – it is an inspiring relief that anti-Arab sentiment is not more widespread and intense.

Commander Rebawar, an Iranian Kurd, gave up a safe life of bee-keeping in Sweden for the front lines of Kurdistan. VOA
Commander Rebawar, an Iranian Kurd, gave up a safe life of bee-keeping in Sweden for the front lines of Kurdistan. VOA

Kurds’ moment?

The Kurds certainly feel it is their moment to establish an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq — the first stage, they hope, in an eventual homeland that will unite Kurds in one country across the region but will be inclusive of minorities, too, they insist.

And it isn’t just the Kurds of Iraq who are on the front lines battling to realize that age-old dream.

Some have given up safe lives in Europe to come here. One is Commander Rebawar, an Iranian Kurd who for the last 20 of his 47 years had been living in Sweden and raising bees. He proudly tells me he has two hives back at the main base outside Irbil. His detachment perches above the town of Bashiqa, 30 kilometers from Mosul.

In Bashiqa, still occupied by IS militants, there are a brother and sister from Iran. In a visit earlier this week, I asked what they were doing before they enlisted with the Revolutionary Khabat Organization of Iranian Kurdistan.

“Horse smugglers,” they told me – a response I was not expecting.

Down a winding road from the Bashiqa front lines – near Iraq’s oldest monastery and church, housing the tomb of St. Matthew – lies the headquarters of the peshmerga’s 7th Division. The division’s gruff, chain-smoking commander, General Nuraddin Tatarkhan, knows all about cycles of war. He’s a 36-year military veteran who fought in the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq war and the Persian Gulf war.

“I covered the Gulf war but from the other side,” I tell the general.

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Dlshad looks on in amazement as two old guys share stories about a war that seems like ancient history now.

“Are you tired of war?” I ask the general.

He sighs. “When Kurdistan declares independence,” he says, “I will stop and write a book.” (VOA)

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New York terror attack: 8 dead, suspect in custody (Third Lead)

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New York, 1st November’2017: At least eight persons have been killed and 12 seriously injured in New York after a driver of a truck mowed down people on a cycle path in Lower Manhattan in US.

The attack happened on Tuesday, when the city was celebrating Halloween, one of the most festive days in the New York calendar.

The pavements were crowded with kids in costumes and there were still children trick-or-treating just yards away, the BBC reported.

The spot is also just yards away from Ground Zero, a site which reminds all New Yorkers of the 9/11 attack in 2001. It did not take police long to confirm that the city had once again been the target of terror.

Five of these victims were Argentine nationals, Efe news quoted a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Buenos Aires as saying.

The 29-year-old man who emerged from the white pick-up truck was shot by a police officer and arrested.

The media named him as Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant who came to the US in 2010 and settled in Florida, a CNN report said.

A note was found in the truck that referred to the Islamic State (IS), a law enforcement source told CBS News.

Around 3.05 p.m., Saipov drove a truck onto the West Side Highway bike path.

The truck entered near Houston Street. It was a rental from Home Depot, the home improvement chain said.

The driver continued down the path, hitting bicyclists and pedestrians.

Further down the path, the truck collided with a school bus at Chambers Street.

After the collision, the driver exited the truck with a pellet gun and a paintball gun. Witnesses said the suspect yelled “Allahu Akbar”, law enforcement sources told CNN.

A note found in the truck claimed the attack was carried out in the name of IS, a senior law enforcement official confirmed to CNN. The note was in English.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was a “cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians”.

de Blasio added: “We know that this action was intended to break our spirit. But we also know that New Yorkers are strong, New Yorkers are resilient and our spirit will never be moved by an act of violence and an act meant to intimidate us.”

US President Donald Trump tweeted: “My thoughts, condolences and prayers to the victims and families of the New York City terrorist attack. God and your country are with you!”

Former US President Barack Obama tweeted: “Michelle and I are thinking of the victims of today’s attack in NYC and everyone who keeps us safe. New Yorkers are as tough as they come.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday condemned the attack in a tweet: “Strongly condemn the terror attack in New York City. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased and prayers with those injured.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “appalled by the cowardly attack”. “My thoughts are with all affected,” she said.

“Together we will defeat the evil of terrorism” and the “UK stands with NYC”, Xinhua news agency quoted May as saying.

Five of the eight killed in the attack were identified as Argentine nationals, who were celebrating their 30th graduation anniversary at the Argentine Polytechnic School of Rosario, Efe news reported.

The statement released by the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, identified the five as Hernan Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damian Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernan Ferruchi.

The New York authorities said that it was a lone wolf attack. It was not part of a wider conspiracy or plot, BBC reported. But this is an active crime scene at the moment. They are still trying to piece together precisely what happened.(IANS)

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Islamic Terrorism Strikes New York Again: #NYCStrong But Who will Bell the Cat of Islamists?

The suspect was is a 29-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan named Sayfullo Saipov, who entered the U.S. in 2010.

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Islamic Terrorism in NYC
Bicycles and debris lay on a bike path after a motorist drove onto the path near the World Trade Center memorial, striking and killing several people, Oct. 31, 2017, in New York. VOA

At least eight people were killed Tuesday and more than a dozen others were injured when a man drove a rented truck onto a busy bike path in New York City.

“Based on information we have at this moment, this was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called it a “lone wolf” attack, saying there’s no evidence to suggest it was part of a wider plot. The incident took place near the World Trade Center memorial in lower Manhattan.

Islamic Terrorism hits New York City again
A Home Depot truck which struck down multiple people on a bike path, killing several and injuring numerous others is seen as New York City first responders are at the crime scene in lower Manhattan in New York, NY, Oct. 31, 2017.VOA

New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said around 3:05 p.m., a man driving a rented Home Depot pickup truck entered the bike path, striking riders and pedestrians. The truck also struck a school bus, injuring two adults and two children.

The man then “exited the vehicle brandishing two handguns,” O’Neill said.

A paintball gun and a pellet gun were later found at the scene. He was shot in the abdomen by police and taken into custody.

He underwent surgery and is expected to survive.

Police said the driver shouted “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great” when he got out of the truck. But when O’Neill was asked whether the suspect shouted the phrase, he replied: “Yeah. He did make a statement when he exited the vehicle,” though he declined to elaborate.

The New York Police Department said they will increase the number of police throughout the city “out of an abundance of caution.”

Law enforcement officials, who refused to be identified, told media outlets the suspect was was a 29-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan named Sayfullo Saipov, who entered the U.S. in 2010.

The Cato Institute told VOA only about 40,000 Uzbeks have entered the United States as migrants in the last 20 years, of those only 2 percent arrived as refugees.

David Bier, a policy analyst at the Washington-based think tank, said he believed this is the first time an Uzbek national has killed anyone on U.S. soil in a terrorist attack.

As of March 2017, three Uzbek nationals had been convicted of terrorism offenses. Ulugbek Kodirov who entered as student visa holder in 2008 and later radicalized on the Internet was convicted of threatening to kill President Obama in 2011. Fazliddin Kurbanov who entered as refugee in 2009 attempted to build bombs for an attack in 2013. Abdurasul Juraboev who immigrated after winning the green card lottery in 2011 was convicted of attempting to join ISIS in Syria in 2015.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the incident and will be continually updated as more details are known. “Our Thoughts and prayers are with all those affected,” she said.

Trump later tweeted, “We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!” Followed by: “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”

Department of Homeland Security said Acting Secretary Elaine Duke had been briefed and the department was “closely monitoring the situation.”

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said “Argentine citizens died” in the attack, but it hasn’t said how many. (VOA)

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After effects of Battle of Mosul: Orphaned Children work to Support Family

Right organizations say there are nearly 4000 orphan children in Mosul

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Battle of Mosul that left thousands of children homeless
Orphaned children in school work to support their family. VOA
  • ISIS declared a “caliphate” in Mosul in 2014 
  • The children of many local residents who fought with the Islamic state fighters in the battle of Mosul were rendered homeless 
  • They work in Mosul to support their families and can’t afford to consider the idea of going to school

New Delhi, August 25, 2017: A war on ISIS or the battle of Mosul, that left thousands of children in Mosul orphaned and homeless, manifests its influence even now. It could be seen in the form of helpless children, of the people who fought with the Islamic state fighters to take the city back from ISIS, when the terror group swept in Mosul, and declared a “caliphate” in 2014.

A number of Mosul children were orphaned during the war, leaving them with the responsibility of taking care of their families. Many can’t even consider going to school, since they are too busy in helping their families.

“I sell tissue papers to cover my daily expenses. My father can’t work because he is sick. I want to go to school but I can’t,” said Unis Tahir, a child in Mosul, as mentioned in the VOA report.

However, many others do not wish to go to school because they are afraid ISIS would teach them fighting and send them for the same.

“I did not go to school because ISIS came and they would teach children about fighting and send them to fight,” says 12-year-old Falah by his vegetable cart in Mosul, mentions the NDTV report.

ALSO READ: UN Human Rights Chief Urges Iraqi Government to help Victims of Islamic State (ISIS) Sex Abuse

The memories of the war still haunt the children. They are very much aware of their poor present, with no definite idea about their future.

“IS fighters suddenly came to our house. They dragged my father on the ground and killed him outside of the house,” said Nazim Ali, another Mosul child.

Right organizations say there are nearly 4000 orphan children in Mosul.

-prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter @goel_samiksha