Iraqis mark a grim anniversary

Residents tell Al Jazeera how their lives have changed since ISIL tore through their country a year ago.

Irbil-ISIL anniversary
Thousands of families who fled from ISIL ended up in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region [Megan O'Toole/Al Jazeera]

Erbil, Iraq – On June 10, 2014, fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) captured the strategic northern Iraqi city of Mosul, prompting scores of residents to flee.

A year later, Iraq’s second-largest city remains in the hands of ISIL, which now controls vast swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. Residents say life under ISIL was intolerable, but displacement has also taken a toll, as they struggle to regain a sense of security and to make a living in their temporary homes.

Thousands of families who fled from ISIL ended up in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.

Al Jazeera spoke with several residents about how ISIL’s advance changed their lives, and about the added pressures this influx has placed on Erbil.

Laith Hmud, 22, construction worker 
Laith Hmud  [Megan O’Toole/Al Jazeera]

We left Beiji when ISIL attacked. ISIL destroyed our house. When they came, they started arresting and killing whoever they wanted to. 

We escaped after two months of living under ISIL, because they had started targeting people based on their background, and people who worked with security services, police, army. They started killing them. We were worried we could be attacked.

The situation was very bad. There was no electricity, no water. The market was running out of goods and the situation became tougher. Many people were killed and tortured by ISIL, so we escaped and came to Erbil.

We are living now day by day. Life is difficult. We sold our car and spent the money. Some days there is work, and some days there is none, so our situation is bad. We don’t know when we can go back, and even then we have no house, nothing. The future is bad.

Sahar Zako, 55, businessman
Sahar Zako   [Megan O'Toole/Al Jazeera]
Sahar Zako  [Megan O’Toole/Al Jazeera]

When Mosul fell so quickly, Christians started leaving for villages around Mosul. The situation was miserable.

They started attacking Christians and Yazidis. They started stealing everything – gold, money, any valuables. They told the Christians to convert to Islam or be killed. 

The Kurdistan Regional Government has tried to help us as much as possible, but we are displaced and we haven’t received our salaries. The church rented a house to help us and they give us food, but there is no money.

Other Christian countries need to help us.We don’t want to go back to Mosul, ever. Even if ISIL is pushed out and Mosul is liberated, we will not go back. 

Batoul Mahdi, 40, unemployed
Batoul Mahdi   [Megan O'Toole/Al Jazeera]
Batoul Mahdi  [Megan O’Toole/Al Jazeera]

We arrived here from Hamdaniya months ago. We are living 12 people in one room. We had a house, a shop, a good life at home. We are thinking of going back home or leaving Iraq. Our kids have not been able to go back to school.

The first time ISIL came into our village, we left, but after awhile we went back. Then ISIL attacked again and took control of our village, so we escaped.

From the moment I opened my eyes in Iraq, it has been fighting, war; war, fighting. I wish I could go to Europe, to France. This is our hope, to leave Iraq.

ISIL are bad. They kill, they rape, they take women, they push people out of their homes. One of my cousin’s daughters was taken by ISIL. We don’t know anything about her now. 

Ahmed Mohamed Hasen, 25, former police officer
Ahmed Mohamed Hasen   [Megan O'Toole/Al Jazeera]
Ahmed Mohamed Hasen  [Megan O’Toole/Al Jazeera]

When ISIL came, we left Mosul. My family are still in Mosul, and there is no contact. They left the family home and are safe in another place. They are afraid they could be harmed.

It’s a bad situation now. There are jobs some days, and no jobs other days. I do daily work when I can get it. 

I have joined a training camp for ex-Iraqi police. We are training and preparing, but we are waiting for the time to participate in the fight against ISIL.

There is nothing difficult about defeating ISIL. If we thought there was no chance, why would we join the fight again? We believe we will defeat them.

Mohammed Jamal, 24, clothing shop worker
Mohammed Jamal   [Megan O'Toole/Al Jazeera]
Mohammed Jamal  [Megan O’Toole/Al Jazeera]

I work in my father’s shop, the family business. Before ISIL, the market was very good, and local people in Kurdistan were buying a lot. But the first time ISIL came near Erbil, we closed the shop for a week. After that we started working again, but the market has been down.

Local people were buying less than before, because of ISIL and because of the economic crisis between the central government and here. We got more Arab customers from different areas. The market fluctuates depending on the political situation.

If ISIL is driven out and Mosul is liberated, I don’t know what will happen economically. For security reasons, for people, for life, it will be better. But economically it could still be very bad in Erbil.

Zhyan Kamil, 43, university teaching assistant
Zhyan Kamil   [Megan O'Toole/Al Jazeera]
Zhyan Kamil  [Megan O’Toole/Al Jazeera]

Before ISIL, Erbil wasn’t crowded like this; it has become very crowded because of all the displaced people who have come here. It has put pressure on all sides – housing, electricity, water. Security is tighter. It has affected everyone.

It has affected tourism in Erbil. This should be a tourism city, but unfortunately, with what happened, no one dares to come here because of security reasons and all that’s going on. Security is tighter and people are feeling insecure.

We want ISIL gone and for security to come back. It has affected everyone, especially government employees who cannot receive a salary. 

Follow Megan O’Toole on Twitter: @megan_otoole  

Source: Al Jazeera