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Separated by war, Iraqi children wait for parents
By Tony Gamal-Gabriel
Debaga, Iraq (AFP) July 18, 2017

Iraqis accused of siding with IS targeted for revenge: UN
United Nations, United States (AFP) July 17, 2017 - Revenge attacks against Iraqis accused of siding with the Islamic State group in Mosul are on the rise after Iraqi forces recaptured the city, the UN envoy warned Monday.

Jan Kubis told the UN Security Council that he was concerned by a "rising popular sentiment in favor of collective punishment of families perceived to be associated with Daesh."

"Countrywide, Iraqis perceived to have links with Daesh are being increasingly subjected to evictions, confiscation of homes, and other retribution and revenge measures," he said. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for IS.

The United Nations has asked Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to take "urgent steps" to halt the evictions and other vindictive acts.

On July 9, Iraq declared victory in its nine-month military campaign to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, which seized the country's second-largest city in June 2014.

Nearly one million people were displaced during the military operation that left the city in ruins.

Kubis said that the defeat of IS in Mosul "should not conceal the fact that the road ahead is extremely challenging," with the militant group still in control of territory in at least three governorates.

The rise of IS in Mosul is seen as linked to deep-seated resentment among Sunni Muslims against the Shiite majority.

Kubis praised the marjaiya, the supreme council of Iraq's Shiite clerics, who stressed in their victory sermons the need to "remedy the longstanding problems" and warned against resorting to more violence.

Turning to the decision by the Kurdistan region of Iraq to hold a referendum on independence in September, the UN envoy urged both sides to enter into negotiations.

These should address the status of Kirkuk, budgetary issues, oil and revenue sharing, among other areas, said Kubis.

"The absence of a meaningful political dialogue could turn a conflict of interests into a different kind of conflict," he warned.

In a joint statement adopted last week, the Security Council called for a redoubled focus on reconciliation, the safe return of the displaced and accountability for crimes.

The council was meeting for the first time since the recapture of Mosul during which Iraqi forces were backed by the United States and France, two permanent council members.

Adel, 15, hasn't seen his parents for the past nine months, but that was the price to pay to escape the brutal rule of Islamic State group jihadists in his northern Iraqi hometown.

"I miss my family, nine months is too long," said the teenager, among hundreds of youngsters separated from their parents because of IS and the months-long battle that has expelled the jihadists from Mosul, the main city of northern Iraq.

Adel remembers the long trek on foot out of Hawijah -- a town in Kirkuk province that is still held by IS -- as he and others made their way to Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

"We walked all night, around 14 hours," said the teenager.

He now lives in a camp for the displaced in Debaga region, southeast of Mosul, where he has been reunited with one of his brothers and some cousins.

Adel is not from the area, but the battle for Mosul has displaced hundreds of thousands of other civilians, many of whom now reside in camps near Iraq's second city.

According to the UN's children agency, UNICEF, more than 1,000 children under the age of 18 have been separated from their parents.

Adel is cared for by the Terres des Hommes Italia, a children's aid organisation, and is among 17 teenagers being sheltered by the charity, which organises English and computer science classes and sports activities.

"The teachers treat us well. It's like I'm at home here now," said Adel.

- Tracing families -

In the common room, boys wearing T-shirts took turns to play ping pong or table football.

Others lay on mattresses in the dormitory next door busy with their mobile phones, while in the background Arab music blared out at full volume.

In the kitchen, three teenagers were helping the head cook prepare the day's lunch, and they were learning how to bake bread.

Six months after Adel fled Hawijah, his parents also left for a camp for the displaced in Kirkuk province.

"The only way to contact them is by phone and sometimes on Facebook," said Adel.

He hopes to go visit them after September, when he is due to resit his school exams after failing at a first attempt.

"There are just over 1,000 children who are separated and unaccompanied," UNICEF's Maulid Warfa said after a tour of the Mosul area.

His visit to eastern and western Mosul came after the Iraq government declared the city "liberated" from the jihadists who overran it three years ago.

"Separated means they are with relatives, but not their parents. Unaccompanied means they are all alone, and this group is our top priority," said Warfa.

He said UNICEF was working to trace the families. "If we can't find them, the courts will put them in a state institution."

- Trouble sleeping -

The UN official said he had met a boy of around seven whose left hand had been badly damaged in an explosion.

"He was clearly very distressed, not talking or interacting, even when we gave him a small ball to play with, he didn't touch it. We were told his parents were killed in the blast," he said.

Terre des Hommes official Abdulwahed Abdullah said children and teenagers separated from their families were at risk of psychological scarring.

"They are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and most of them have trouble sleeping due to anxiety," he said.

Some of the youngsters also "feel guilty they were able to escape from (IS) but not their families", Abdullah said.

When they arrive at a centre like the one run by the charity, they have to relearn some basic facts of life: boys and girls can mix and listening to music is allowed.

Under jihadist rule, all that was "haram" -- Arabic for forbidden.

Twenty-year-old Ahmed also escaped from Hawijah but with his seven sisters and brothers, all younger including the baby of the family, a girl of two.

Ahmed and his siblings left seven months ago without their parents and have found refuge in another camp in the Debaga region.

"We speak on the phone every two or three days but only for five minutes each time," said Ahmed.

Abdullah, his 15-year-old brother, said they had to keep conversations short because if the jihadists were to find out that their parents have a phone "they could kill them".

Ahmed says he has learnt to remain patient with his younger brothers and sisters, who often cry and keep asking after their parents.

"I tell them a story, anything to keep them quiet, I tell them that they (the parents) will come today or I give them some money to buy sweets," he said.



West Mosul residents start mammoth task of rebuilding
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) July 13, 2017
Near Mosul's war-ravaged historic heart, Maher Al-Nejmawi watches a worker repainting his long-abandoned stall. Residents of Iraq's second city are trying to put their lives back together after months of fighting. "Here, a car bomb exploded. Over there, a rocket hit the building," says Nejmawi, a 29-year-old car battery and tyre salesman dressed in a brown robe. The white paint on his sh ... read more

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