How much longer before West Mosul falls? And then what? Many Kurds in Northern Iraq hold their breath for what might come. Suppose peace breaks out.
This blog is written by Frank van Lierde. He writes stories about the people behind Cordaid’s work.
Two special women
I’m in the car on my way to Duhok, with two special women. Mosul’s on our left. Lavigne Putrus is a young doctor. Proud of her Aramaic descent. Hiran Ali is a young single mother and Kurdish in everything she does. Proud daughter of proud Peshmerga parents. She speaks fluent Dutch. As a child she and her family fled for Saddam. They were on their way to cross the ocean, but stranded in a small and flat North Sea country.
Two women tied to the land we’re driving through. In love with it and scarred by it. Hurt by the wars that keep on being waged between Tigris and Euphrate. Just like everyone who lives here.
These are my Kurdish colleagues. Lavigne is not only a medical doctor, she also coordinates Cordaid’s health projects in northern Iraq. Hiran is Cordaid’s financial administrator. But more than that, she’s the glue that keeps a small and overburdened team together. And believe me, in war zones it takes special glue to stick together and stay operational.
Armed militias all over the country
Outside on a roundabout, a heavily armed man in uniform controls the traffic. “Shiite militia,” explains Hiran. “Do not take pictures.” Armed militias, more or less connected to the national army, with foreign connections, with their own uniforms, own flags, fighting wars within the war. They are all over the country, hundreds of them.
Two women tied to the land we’re driving through. In love with it and scarred by it.
From the outside this war against ISIL looks structured. One enemy, one coalition. But beneath the surface there’s an inextricable knot. “If Mosul falls, there’s no plan,” says Hiran. “The odds are great that the mess will get bigger. That some of the bigger militias will ruthlessly want to seize power, all of them shadily or openly connected to foreign powers and neighboring countries.” New chaos. Bigger chaos. Who will kill who in Kurdistan? No wonder Kurds hold their breath.
Trouble will still be brewing
Lavigne points out something else. “Suppose Mosul falls and there’s a ceasefire. Troubles will still be brewing in this torn country of Yezidi, Christians, Shiites, Sunni, Alawites. Trust is shredded. Millions of displaced persons and refugees will return to their villages, their paradises turned into ghost towns. They look at each other, those who fled and those who stayed. They see the winners and the losers, they see the farmer boys who fought for ISIL or were forced to do so. Who killed who, they will ask themselves.”
Sorrow, deep distrust and a country stuffed with weapons. And oil. That’s a bad combination.
“Why do you think there’s this fierce battle for Mosul,” Hiran asks me. “It’s not about religion or ideology. It’s about oil. Mosul had the first major oil refinery in Iraq. They started fighting over it in the 1920s. The British and Americans were already involved. They had shares and interests, until Saddam kicked them out. It’s not for nothing that ISIL wanted Mosul. ”
It’s not about religion or ideology. It’s about oil.
So the question is, who will get rich from Mosul’s oil once the black flag is down?
The road to Duhok
Not far from Duhok, Hiran says, “I know this road. It’s strange to drive here again.” She took it once before, when she was 9 years old. She and her family had to run for their lives. “It was after the First Gulf War. My father had been imprisoned for a few years in Abu Ghraib, as a political prisoner”, she explains, keeping her eyes fixed on the road. “He was tortured. He never recovered from that. Not in the Netherlands, where we got asylum, and not when he went back later in life.”
In 2011, Hiran returned to Kurdistan. She was half Dutch by now and a single mom of a young boy. Her country, Kurdistan, was doing well. And she missed something. Family life. The earth of childhood. The ties that bind.
One day in August
At one point, in august 2014, Kurds in Erbil came within an inch of having to run for their lives. It was when ISIL was on the verge of taking the city. Lavigne had her bags ready, just like about everyone. “My sister called me,” Lavigne recalls. “ISIL is at 15 minutes from the city,” she shouted.” Panic all around. “That particular day I worked in the hospital. Patients just tore off the tubes of the drips they were on and ran away in horror”, she continues.
Every resident of Erbil remembers that August day. It’s no different with Hiran. “My son, brother and myself took cover in our own house. We had our passports clutched in our hands. But I didn’t want to run. Not again. I was willing to die. My son was 9. My age when me and my mother took that road to Duhok, and further, to the Netherlands.”
That day I worked in the hospital. Patients tore off the tubes of the drips they were on and ran away in horror.
Peshmerga troops thwarted the ISIL attack. Erbil was saved. Mosul, which is a little further and just outside the area of the Kurdish Autonomous Region, was taken.
Near Duhok there’s a village where Cordaid is going to run a clinic. The place harbors thousands of displaced people, many of them Yezidi. Before we step out to pay a visit, Hiran says: “Do you know what I hope? That Kurdistan becomes the Switzerland from the Middle East. Neutral, prosperous and stable.”
Let the spirit of Switzerland – at least it’s talent for peace – dwell over the Middle East.
Switzerland? We step out of the car. The air is fresh. The hills aren’t as green as the Alps though. Switzerand? In front of us, a stone’s throw away, we see Turkey, arch enemy of the Kurds. A little to the left, there’s Syria, an open wound. Another turn to the left and we’re facing Saudi Arabia. And in our back, there’s Iran.
Let the spirit of Switzerland – at least it’s talent for peace – dwell over the Middle East, starting here, in Kurdistan. Like rain over a burning field. Over the world.