Af­ter IS kid­nap and op­pres­sion, Iraqi girls ea­ger to get lives back

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

NEAR BASHIQA, Iraq: The first thing Iraqi teenager Afrah did when she es­caped Islamic State cap­tiv­ity near Mo­sul was to re­move her face veil and throw it de­fi­antly to the ground.

The ul­tra-hard­line mil­i­tants kid­napped and used Afrah, 16, her older sis­ter Asil and 14 other fam­ily mem­bers and rel­a­tives as hu­man shields when they with­drew from the Iraqi city of Tikrit, her home­town around 200 km (125 miles) south, early last year. For a year and a half the fam­ily was trapped in the vil­lage of Baw­iza just north of the ji­hadists’ Iraqi strong­hold. The girls tried to keep a low pro­file and barely ven­tured out­doors.

When Iraqi forces pushed into the vil­lage a few days ago, part of the U.S.backed cam­paign to oust Islamic State from Mo­sul, they were de­ter­mined not to be taken hostage again, and rushed to­wards the mil­i­tary’s ar­moured ve­hi­cles.

Hav­ing sur­vived the mil­i­tants’ op­pres­sive rule, Afrah and Asil, 19, want to put the har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind them, re­turn to Tikrit, re­sume stud­ies, work and get their lives back. “I’ve lost two years of my ed­u­ca­tion.

I want to get back to school, com­plete my stud­ies and then qual­ify to be­come a den­tist,” Afrah said.

Asil, for her part, wanted to go back to her job is­su­ing food hy­giene cer­tifi­cates to restau­rants and cafes. “I loved that job, I can’t wait to start again,” she said. The two sis­ters spoke as they waited in the desert along­side hun­dreds of other dis­placed Iraqis try­ing to cross into Kur­dish­con­trolled ar­eas a few kilo­me­tres north­east of Mo­sul.

Ex­plo­sions could be heard com­ing from the city, as the cam­paign to drive IS out con­tin­ues with fierce street bat­tles be­tween the mil­i­tants and Iraqi forces. Islamic State has taken civil­ians hostage to avoid be­ing tar­geted by air strikes, has ex­e­cuted peo­ple in Mo­sul, used women from re­li­gious mi­nori­ties as sex slaves and en­forced its conservative rules on oth­ers us­ing fe­male re­li­gious po­lice.

“If you dared not to wear a niqab (face veil), you’d get a fine on the first oc­ca­sion, around 50,000 di­nars ($40). Af­ter that, they’d beat you as pun­ish­ment,” Afrah said. “I hardly went out, I slept, ate, that was it. A few months ago they cut off the in­ter­net, too. It was bor­ing. I didn’t want to go to one of their schools where they teach you only about weapons and re­li­gion,” she said.

Nearly an isis bride

Afrah wore a long brown coat and bright woolly hat. She said she would con­tinue to wear the Mus­lim head­scarf but was re­lieved to show her face again. Asil had also shed her niqab. The elder sis­ter nar­rowly avoided be­ing mar­ried off to an Islamic State fighter while they lived in Baw­iza, she said.

“Dad re­fused to give the guy my hand in mar­riage,” she ex­plained - a dan­ger­ous act of de­fi­ance that nearly got her fa­ther Saeed killed. “The fighter who wanted to marry Asil ac­cused Dad of be­ing a spy, and they took him for trial,” Afrah said. “The fighter was gross, old with a big beard,” she added.

Afrah, who speaks some English and who the fam­ily say is their tech­ni­cal whiz, had the pres­ence of mind to delete all Saeed’s con­tacts from his phone, start­ing with rel­a­tives or friends who had served in Iraq’s se­cu­rity forces.

With­out enough ev­i­dence and be­cause the IS fighter was not high-rank­ing, Saeed was let go. “They’d have cut my head off,” he said. A few months later they learned the fighter had been killed in bat­tle. “That dog is dead,” Saeed said, stand­ing next to Asil.

A rel­a­tive had not been so lucky, they said, point­ing to a woman sit­ting nearby on a tar­pau­lin sheet with the rest of the fam­ily. IS, of­ten re­ferred to by the Ara­bic acro­nym Daesh, had ex­e­cuted her hus­band be­cause he was a for­mer po­lice­man. The fam­ily stocked up on blan­kets and warm clothes for win­ter, an­tic­i­pat­ing time dis­placed in a camp some­where. They do not know when they will be al­lowed into Kur­dish-held ter­ri­tory, and how long it will take af­ter that to get home. “Hope­fully we can re­turn soon,” Asil said. “Girls who lived un­der Daesh just want to re­sume their lives.”—Reuters

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