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Iraq

Day after day,
removing the smell of fear

On November 23, 2015, Ahmed Yasir stopped smoking. He was at the Telkaif market in Iraqi Kurdistan, when an ISIS patrol stopped him. When searching him, the men discovered a pack of cigarettes in his left pocket, strictly prohibited under the ISIS regime. Ahmed was beaten severely. Next, handcuffed and blindfolded, he was thrown into a van with three other men. They are all there for the same reason.

The Islamic State had already used its anti-smoking campaign as a warning: “Smoking kills, so do we,” proclaims the slogan illustrated by a picture of a bloody cigarette in a glass ashtray. According to interpretation of the Sharia, Daesh’s Islamic law says smoking is a form of “slow suicide” and therefore a sin.

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They are all held under different charges. The sin committed by one of them is consuming alcohol mixed with energy drinks, another a modern haircut and yet another for wearing tight trousers.

Eleven days of torture, bullying and terror are inflicted on Ahmed: « I couldn’t think of anything other than death. Either it would be by execution and otherwise it would have been a bomb falling on us, » he explains with his voice is reduced to a whisper.

On the eleventh day, at dawn, his jailers commandeered him along with several of his cellmates. They were heading to a field near the city. “I told myself that’s it, it’s over. I began to pray for my family and my soul, “says Ahmed. He stands waiting for the final shot, but instead they broke his fingers of his right hand and ordered him to walk straight ahead without removing the blindfold. “Don’t look back,” shouted the men, starting the engine and moving off in the opposite direction.

Twelve kilometres separate Mosul from his village, Telkaif. At the end of 2014, this urban centre, historically inhabited by the Christian Assyrian majority, was occupied by the Islamic State. The churches were ransacked, the crucifixes smashed. A large part of the population fled, joining the growing number of internally displaced people in Iraq. Three years later, the IDP population exceeded 3 million. Those who remain are living in hell.

Every day smells of fear, we smell death,” ,” says Hadiya, wearing her white hijab, fifty years old. She had three sons. They are all dead. A year ago, the eldest threw himself on a man who was going to set himself on fire in a crowded restaurant in Mosul. “My son died but he saved the lives of many people. He’s a hero,”she says proudly. The other two were police officers. When IS invaded their city, she hid them at home. “For two years they were locked up. Nobody knew where they were, nor their wives or their children”. At the end of 2016, when the international coalition led by the United States and Iraqi forces advanced in their offensive against ISIS, several men forced their way into their home and took them away.

 

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