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Chapter 6: The Scars of ISIS

Jalawla, Iraq. April 8.

Manar pointed with one hand as he drove with the other. "See, up there, the house up on the hill? That's how ISIS controlled the whole town. There were snipers in the windows that covered all directions." He circled around and turned down, heading for an underpass. "They had IV fluids for food and diapers so they never had to leave their posts. They didn't sleep." There was a moment of silence as I reflected and he remembered. "You can see in their strategy how cruel they were" he said at last. I nodded and remained silent.

We came down to the main street in Jalawla town. "All the buildings you see here have been built the last five years. The whole town was destroyed. First they bombed it before capture. Then, when they were about to be defeated by the army, they burned what was left." Manar spoke matter-of-factly, not as if he was indifferent to the events, more like this was only a piece of the violence he has been through. Perhaps because it was.

Iraq has seen one bloody tragedy after another through modern history. Internal massacres and international wars were plentiful during the regime of Saddam Hussein, some of which include the Halabja bombing with chemical weapons, the Kuwait War and the Gulf War. After the invasion of United States and its allies in 2003, the country has been plagued by civil wars and high terrorist activity. The dark picture most foreigners have of Iraq is understandable, yet very narrow in scope. Perhaps more importantly, it is outdated. Manar called the current phase "the golden age of Iraq" and most Iraqis I have met have expressed similar optimism. The last open conflict finished in 2017 which might seem recent, but a lot happens during seven years, and this time most of it has been positive for the people, locals and foreigners. People are happy to live in a time of peace, but it is hard to look to the future.

"We still cannot think of long-term security. The trauma is too near. We are just glad to be safe."

It surprises no one that it is hard for Manar, his family and his townsfolk to trust the safety of the roads or the words of the military enforcement. Trauma buries fear deep in our subconscious. ISIS claimed to be the liberators of the Sunnis against the pro-Shia government, but there was no liberation, only annihilation in the most inhumane ways imaginable. The people were burned, as were their homes. They have rebuilt lives and properties, but the scars are visible and run deep. They need healing, and time, and I can only pray they will have it. Insha'Allah.

At the same time, I am happy that I did not act on the fears of the locals when I chose my route. If I would have, I would not have come to Jalawla and learned of its place in the war. I would not have met Manar, heard his stories or met his family. I would not have slept in a house that was burned by ISIS. My journey would have been lesser for it, of that I am sure.

If you have followed the story so far, you know I like to quote. To weave together facts with fantasy, practicality with poetry, doing and dreaming for events to gain greater depth and meaning. As I reflect on the paths taken, where they lead and where they did not, I find it fitting to use Robert Frost and the ending words of one of my favourite poems "The road not taken".

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Apr 21

I am very happy to have met you and to be your partner in the domino game in Mosul I hope to see you again

Pelle Duveblad
Pelle Duveblad
Apr 21
Replying to

Me too! And you will <3

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