In Iraq vil­lage, chil­dren re­claim their school af­ter IS ‘We for­got ev­ery­thing’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

“One bul­let plus one bul­let equals? Two bul­lets!” This is how the chil­dren of the small Iraqi vil­lage of Jaraf were taught math­e­mat­ics dur­ing two years of ji­hadist rule.

On Satur­day, a neigh­bor opened the gate of their school for the first time since the Is­lamic State (IS) group was forced out by Iraqi forces last week. The chil­dren took over the build­ing and were soon play­ing foot­ball with soldiers in the main hall and ju­bi­lantly rip­ping up their IS text­books. “They brought new books... all of them Is­lamic,” said Sanaa Ahmed, re­count­ing the time in 2014 when IS took over her vil­lage south of Mo­sul.

“There used to be pic­tures in our books. They changed that, they said it was for­bid­den,” said Sanaa, a lively 10-year-old wear­ing a pink woolly dress and a stack of white bracelets on both wrists. “They brought us pic­tures of lit­tle girls com­pletely cov­ered, with the niqab (full veil) and even socks and gloves... I don’t know how they wouldn’t suf­fo­cate in there,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund, 4.7 mil­lion chil­dren have been di­rectly af­fected by the con­flict in Iraq and 3.5 mil­lion are out of school. In Jaraf, many par­ents de­cided not to send their chil­dren to school when IS took over. “They were try­ing to con­trol the chil­dren’s minds, they would teach them things that en­cour­aged them to kill,” said Abu Salem, a 28-year-old fa­ther whose house faces the school.

Songs prais­ing Bagh­dadi

“For ex­am­ple, in the math­e­mat­ics class, they would learn what is a bul­let plus a bul­let, or a rocket plus a rocket,” said Salem Ab­del Mohsen, an­other fa­ther who did not send his chil­dren to school un­der IS. “When the kids grow up, what kind of ed­u­ca­tion will they have had? When they grad­u­ate, will they be­come a doc­tor? An en­gi­neer?,” he asked.

“It won’t be pos­si­ble, of course they will be­come Daesh (IS),” said the young man, now a mem­ber of the lo­cal para­mil­i­tary force known as Hashed al-Ashaeri. The cost of IS text­books, a list for which is still pinned to a wall in Jaraf’s Zeinab Bint Khadija school, also dis­cour­aged many par­ents.

A copy of the phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion book pro­duced by IS-com­plete with the group’s logo on ev­ery page-was ly­ing on the floor in one of the class­rooms. Most of it con­sisted of in­struc­tions for nor­mal ex­er­cises but the IS touch was ev­i­dent in some lessons.

The first one in the book was “how to sit cross-legged prop­erly” and an­other was called “the seven stones game”, which ap­par­ently aimed to pre­pare for the rit­ual “ston­ing of the devil”, part of the hajj pil­grim­age.

An­other class de­scribed an ex­er­cise to be per­formed whilst singing a song prais­ing the IS caliph and to which the re­frain goes: “All of you join and give al­le­giance to (Abu Bakr al-) Bagh­dadi.”

“There was a teacher, she used to tell us that the Is­lamic State is good, that they give you food and money. Good money. Bet­ter than the army. ‘Tell your par­ents to join us’,” Sanaa re­counted.

‘We for­got ev­ery­thing’

Jaraf is one of sev­eral hun­dred tiny and re­mote vil­lages dot­ting the windy roads of the Ti­gris Val­ley in Nin­eveh prov­ince. Be­fore Iraqi forces started re­tak­ing swathes of land, the vil­lages were in the heart of the “caliphate” IS pro­claimed in June 2014, even more iso­lated from the rest of the world than they pre­vi­ously were.

The school in Jaraf would re­main closed for days on end and even when IS sent a teacher down from Mo­sul for a few classes, many chil­dren stayed home. Is­lamic State group teach­ers re­mon­strated the chil­dren ev­ery time they vis­ited, telling the girls to wear the niqab and the boys to dress “Afghani style”. But the chil­dren said that was never en­forced. In Jaraf, there were no ji­hadist train­ing camps for chil­dren such as those show in IS pro­pa­ganda videos. “The chil­dren didn’t un­der­stand all this, they are just chil­dren, they want to play,” said Abu Salem.

Most of the chil­dren there never ven­tured more than a few kilo­me­ters from their vil­lage and talk about ji­hadist rule like a be­nign in­con­ve­nience, a cou­ple of school years with an un­lucky crop of teach­ers. “They tried to teach us their things but we were fed up with Daesh and we al­ready for­got ev­ery­thing,” said Sanaa. — AFP

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