Using Art for Healing
Barely two years after its liberation from ISIS, Iraq is still harboring battle wounds. Everyone lost something, whether it was a home, business, family member or friend. A British Journal of Psychiatry study found that over 45 percent of child soldiers for ISIS in Northern Iraq who are between the ages of eight and 14 suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD. USAID has been funding art and music projects that bring people together and beautify the country as part of a national healing process.

In recent years, billions of dollars have gone to rebuilding infrastructure and ensuring that Iraquis meet their basic needs. To supplement the reconstruction of cities, some organizations have focused on healing the social rifts that emerged during the occupation.

The Benefits of the Arts

Iraq became liberated in 2017 from a three-year reign of terror under ISIS, and physical reconstruction in the war-torn country has been slow. However, many recognize that repairing buildings and paving streets will not undo all of the damage. The violence has torn the social fabric of Iraq to shreds. Reporter Alice Su from The Atlantic wrote in 2018, “Even if Mosul is rebuilt… lingering distrust and ongoing sectarian and ethnic violence may doom Iraq’s post-ISIS future.” People must heal this pervasive distrust before Iraq can achieve stability.

To encourage reconciliation between Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and the ethnic minorities, USAID offers support for art and music projects that local organizations initiated. Research has indicated the positive qualities of creative engagement to decrease anxiety, stress and mood changes, and this makes art medicinal to damaged societies like those that have recently experienced war.

Art and Music in Iraq

The Karim Wasfi Center for Creativity runs orchestras for Iraqi youth and introduced the first music program for the country’s orphans and displaced.  Its founder, Karim Wasfi, conducted the Peace Through Arts Farabi Orchestra during a USAID-sponsored concert in Mosul last October 2018.  This performance was the first classical music concert to take place in Mosul since the liberation from ISIS.

Another project was with a Yezidi youth group to paint over ISIS propaganda graffiti in the streets of communities near Sinjar. The youth volunteers replaced hateful messages with those promoting peace and education. Not only was this a healing activity for the nearly 200 youth who participated in the painting, but residents will now walk by these uplifting murals on a daily basis.

USAID emphasizes supporting projects that use art and music to promote messages of peace, like the work in Sinjar. Using art for healing in war-torn Iraq is gaining traction with Iraqi locals, as well as in other regions of the Middle East. Syrian Kurdish artist Ferhad Khalil organized an art symposium in Raqqa, Syria, to celebrate liberation from ISIS, and the World Monuments Fund has a school in Jordan to train refugees in conservation stonemasonry.

Art has the power to move people. Harnessing that power, the U.S. is funding more projects that are using art for healing in war-torn Iraq. A violin or a paintbrush may be able to combat terrorism, ethnic hatred and fear in countries facing political strife.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr

Livestock vaccination in MosulIt has been four months since Iraq’s successful recapture of their second-largest city, Mosul, from Islamic forces. After being under siege for three years, Iraq now has the opportunity to implement livestock vaccination in Mosul. Livestock is the second largest form of agricultural income for Mosul residents and approximately 12 million Iraqis depend on agriculture to live securely.

Since Mosul’s recapture in July 2017, thousands of families who had fled during the conflict returned to their homes to find their farms desecrated. Water supplies were contaminated, agricultural supplies destroyed and any surviving livestock had not been vaccinated since 2014. The lack of livestock vaccinations poses a threat of epidemic diseases that can spread to local residents and neighboring countries.

The United Nations and Iraq have come together to implement an emergency animal health campaign to vaccinate all livestock in the hopes it will end the fear and possibility of being exposed to an epidemic disease. Nearly one million sheep, goats, cattle and buffalo are said to be vaccinated. The Iraq Humanitarian Fund will provide the funds for the vaccinations in partnership with Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture. In addition, around 60,000 animals will be provided with nutrient-dense food.

The destruction of agriculture will evidently put a delay in the rehabilitation process, as it will take both time and money to rebuild the land. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a statement seeking $74.5 million to assist 1.39 million Iraqis. The costs will include agricultural rehabilitation, vaccination and feeding of livestock and expansion of income-generating work and activities for the Iraqi people.

“FAO is committed to ensuring that livelihoods are protected, to promote people’s self-reliance and dignity, and reduce dependence on food assistance,” says Iraq FAO representative Fadel El-Zubi.

With the success of infrastructure restoration and livestock vaccination in Mosul, residents will rely less on humanitarian aid and will have access to producing and selling their own food. By next year, 200,000 Iraqi people should be able to begin earning an income from their agriculture again.

– Brianna Summ

Photo: Flickr

As Mosul, Iraq slowly slips from the grasp of ISIS, civilians are fleeing the city and being evacuated in large numbers. Refugee agencies estimate that 900,000 people were displaced as the Iraqi government launched their offensive to take the city back from ISIS.

As the fighting has continued, evacuations took place throughout the city. Many civilians fled despite ISIS snipers targeting those attempting to leave the city. When refugees emerge from the city, they are usually starving and injured. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) attests that food in the city was seized by militant groups, leaving civilians with very little to eat.

To address the problem, humanitarian camps were set up nearby to provide aid to civilians who fled or were evacuated. In Northern Iraq, the UNHCR created 13 camps and assisted over 500,000 people. However, the refugee agency states that tens of thousands of refugees are still trapped in Mosul. Between 700 and 1,000 people are arriving at the camps every day.

The Iraqi government’s offensive to retake Mosul lasted eight months. Over the course of the fighting in the streets and the bombing, the city was largely destroyed. Civilians likely will not be able to return for months, as large sections of the city will need to be rebuilt and checked for rigged explosives left behind by militants.

Although the camps are safer than the city, they are in no way designed to be long-term housing for Mosul’s refugees. Families are each assigned a tent, but they afford little protection against the cold temperatures. There is no school for the children to attend while at the camp.

Ultimately, the need for continued humanitarian assistance in Mosul is paramount. Organizations on the ground, such as the UNHCR, need the resources to continue to provide aid to refugees from Mosul. Despite current conditions, many hope the fighting will end as the Iraqi government takes controls the city.

Anika Lanser

Photo: Flickr

At the apex of Islamic State (IS) control, 10 million people were living in territory under IS authority. However, that number has been steadily decreasing.

By December 2015, the Salafi jihadist group controlled an extensive territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria that formed an unrecognized proto-state. Outside of Iraq and Syria, IS controls territory in Libya, Sinai and Afghanistan.

The jihadist group gained international attention when it invaded and overtook Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. Iraq’s fight to remove the Islamic State group from Mosul has ravaged for six months, with the violence causing more than 215,000 citizens to become displaced.

Twenty miles west of Mosul, U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, met with Iraqi citizens inside a camp designated for displaced individuals. He later stated that “these people have suffered enormously,” and without aid, “they go on suffering.”

The Secretary-General urges for increased funding for U.N. programs in Iraq. He calls for “international solidarity” and aid for the people of Mosul.

The U.N. estimates that $985 million is required for emergency funds to assist displaced individuals throughout Iraq. Providing shelter for thousands of people fleeing Mosul will cost at least $7 million as the fighting continues. Presently, U.N. programs in Iraq have only reached eight percent of their funding budget.

The current focus area in the larger battle against IS centers around the control of Mosul. The city is the jihadist group’s last critical bastion in Iraq. Financial assistance for Iraqi and Kurdish security forces is a key component for regaining Mosul, which has been under IS authority since 2014.

Nearly 750,000 people continue to live in western Mosul. There, the conflict between Islamic State militants and Iraqi and Kurdish forces has led to thousands of casualties. Most of the residents do not have access to clean drinking water or sufficient food. Excluding the Iraqi military, agencies have not been able to provide aid for the people of Mosul due to the extreme levels of violence in the area.

The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting shortly after the U.S. released 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian air base in early April. U.N. chief Guterres advised the council to unify and reach a peaceful agreement on moving forward in Syria. “For too long,” he states, “international law has been ignored in the Syrian conflict, and it is our shared duty to uphold international standards of humanity.” Guterres believes this is a “prerequisite” to ending the continued suffering of the people of Mosul and Syria.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr

Mustard Gas
The Islamic State has been using chemical weapons including the poison known as mustard gas on Iraqi and coalition forces, as well as on civilian targets. Human Rights Watch has called on the Iraqi government to respond by warning civilians in conflict zones about the use of chemical agents, isolating contaminated areas and providing treatment for victims of chemical weapon attacks. If the Iraqi government cannot do this, it should seek assistance from other Chemical Weapons Convention member countries.

According to the Pentagon, mustard gas has been stockpiled and used by the Islamic State in the past, and as the battle for Mosul continues, U.S. forces say that they expect to see it used again. The head of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons program has confirmed that the Islamic State has been stockpiling these weapons with the intention of using them in the battle for Mosul. In recent weeks, there have been several reports of chemical attacks in the areas surrounding Mosul.

Mustard gas was first and most famously used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, and it has been used as a method of psychological warfare as well. Although exposure to mustard gas is rarely fatal, the chemical remains infamous for its invisibility, odorlessness and lack of immediate symptoms.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the effects of mustard gas depend on how much people are exposed to, the length of their exposure and the method of exposure. Exposure can occur through contact with the skin or eyes or by drinking contaminated water or eating the gas in liquid form.

Once exposed, it can take up to 24 hours for symptoms to appear. These symptoms usually include redness and itching of the skin, irritation of the eyes, respiratory tract problems such as shortness of breath, sneezing, a bloody nose, abdominal pain, fever, anemia and bone weakness.

The long-term effects of mustard gas can include second- and third-degree burns, chronic respiratory disease, blindness and cancer. Due to the severity of these symptoms, the use of mustard gas by the Islamic State is extremely concerning.

The World Post reported the story of a 4-year-old girl who was killed by mustard gas deployed by the Islamic State in Taza, Iraq. Her mother was standing beside her when she was killed and suffered severe burns from the gas.

Human Rights Watch has documented several other chemical weapon attacks in late September and early October. These attacks constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. For the safety of civilians and soldiers in Iraq, it is imperative that the government follow the guidelines set by Human Rights Watch and prevent chemical attacks by the Islamic State.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Iraqi Children Return to School in Liberated Villages
Since the Islamic State group (IS) emerged in Iraq several years ago, the lives of thousands of civilians have been negatively affected by violence and extremism. When forces swept through the country in 2014, their largest conquest was the city of Mosul.

The invasion forced a large portion of the population to flee and the city became the group’s best claim to legitimacy as an Islamic caliphate. Realizing the significance of the city, taking back Mosul is now a major priority for both Iraqi and Western forces in the fight against IS.

In the two years that Mosul and its surrounding areas have been under the control of IS, thousands have been forced from their home and hundreds of Iraqi children have been denied access to education. Now, as forces advance on the IS stronghold in Mosul, Iraqi children are finally returning to school in liberated villages that neighbor the city.

Mosul is an ancient city with hundreds of years of culture and history, making it central to Iraqi identity. The city is diverse and made up of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Yazidis. Not only has the city’s historical and cultural significance been damaged by the presence of IS militants, but the lives of hundreds have been disrupted.

Eastern Mosul and its surrounding cities have been liberated by Iraqi forces and residents of the area are overjoyed to feel they have regained some sense of control in their lives and communities. Free from the grip of IS, people are free to use their cell phones, men are free to shave their beards, families aren’t consumed with the prospects of being separated from one another and children are free to return to school.

After IS invaded Awsaja, a town about 30 miles from Mosul, parents pulled their children out of school to protect them from the extremist ideologies that the curriculum turned to under militant control. Awsaja was reclaimed by Iraqi forces about two months ago and since, all 700 children in Awsaja have been re-enrolled in school. The small town is severely lacking in educational infrastructure and teaching faculty, but goals for the future of Awsaja revolve around building a successful educational program for all children.

Today, half of the world’s 65 million displaced people are under the age of 18, and only 36 percent of these youths have access to education. Without education, children are more likely to be denied economic and social opportunities which can stunt the development of a community as a whole. Considering these numbers and their implications, Awsaja’s fight to provide quality education for its children is a huge step in standing up to IS and the extremism it represents.

As Iraqi forces move closer and closer to taking back Mosul, more and more Iraqi children return to school.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr