Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism

Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism

From the city of coexistence to ‘the Caucasian immigrants’ territory’ and incubator of organization leaders.


Photos and voices from the Turkmen city of Talafar which was occupied by ISIS who settled its ‘indigenous Turks’ in it.

Abbas Abdul Kareem / Ninoy

In AlKhadhra district south east of Talafar, Abu Omar Al Turkmani, a leader of the Islamic Sate, sits in his new house surrounded by his comrades of arms ‘ Immigrant fighters” (Mujahidists) who have close relations with the senior organization leaders belonging to the Turkmen city, which is considered one of most prominent ISIS strongholds, and a significant center for the recruitment and training of fighters.

That district which was once a Shiite neighborhood a year and three months earlier, has overnight been changed into an area for ‘Sunni Mujahidists’ coming from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. There, fighters appear amidst their families discussing their living conditions and exchanging visits while planning for their new lives. As for Abu Omar’s family, they arrived to the town weeks after ISIS had dominated it, and settled themselves in a house that was once owned by a Shiite merchant.

Like everywhere in Talafar, that area seemed completely calm in late August 2015, in spite of the chitchat that was running then within the circles of the dignitaries’ meetings about the killing of their comrade Saud Mohsen Hassan, the second man in the ISIS organization and the former lieutenant Colonel in Iraq’s Republican Guards, who was known after 2003 among the circles of the hard-line Islamic groups as Fadhel Al Hayyali, Abu Mutaz Alqureshi, Hajj Mutaz, before he was nicknamed among ISIS fighters as Abu Muslim Al Turkmani, since many of the Turkmen consider him the leader of the liberation operations of Nenoy and Talafar in June 2014.

He was deputy ISIS leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, whose killing was announced several times, the last of which was made by the US National Security Council on 22 August, 2015, which stated that he met his end near Mosul in an unmanned drone raid. That was later confirmed in an audio mourning record by the ISIS spokesman, Abu Muhammad Al Adnani. Not only was he the man responsible for providing weaponry for ISIS and one of its well-known prominent military leaders, but he was also the decision maker of the transfer of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq, including Abu Omar himself.

Those close to Abu Muslim, who repeatedly appeared in Tel Afar, Mosul and Fallujah after being dominated by ISIS, say that all credit goes to him and other Turkmen in the organization, as regards the recruitment of around 800 fighters speaking Turkish languages, many of them found their way to Talafar and lived in its several neighborhoods including Al Khadhra.


Expatriate Fighters’ Neighborhoods

A new life is arising in this neighborhood and other Shiite neighborhoods which were deserted by their indigenous inhabitants. Dozens of houses in the city neighborhoods and markets which had once been inhabited and shared by both Shiites and Sunnis for decades have now become homes for the Turkish-speaking fighters with their different dialects. “It is their new city.” Says Abu Saad, a retired teacher exceeding 70 years of age, while rubbing sweat from his brown forefront with trembling hands.

Tel Afar, the Assyrian city known as ‘Ishtar’s Paradise’, and which had been for long centuries one of the most important resting stations for trade caravans, and which had become in the twentieth century a center for Turkmen in Iraq; this city had witnessed within hours the greatest demographic change in its modern history after around  250,000 people, constituting about half of its population, immigrated leaving their city behind to embrace hundreds of Arab and foreign fighters accompanied by their families, a state of affairs that gives rise to new life patterns, the features of which have not been clear yet.

That happened days after ISIS militants dominated the city of Mosul on June 10, when the Shiite neighborhoods in Talafar were attacked by mortar guns and their inhabitants were compelled to seek refuge west to Senjar leaving behind hundreds of their youth fighting an imbalanced battle against ISIS fighters after the large majority of Iraq’s military forces have withdrawn from their positions, leaving their weapons behind without using them. Meanwhile, the Sunni neighborhoods surrendered to the organization, a sorry state of affairs that empowered ISIS to dominate the entire city of Talafar on June 26, according to witnesses given by a number of the city dwellers and several security and administrative officials and compiled by the author of this report.

“From the very first day, ISIS organization decided to turn Talafar into a pure Sunni city, putting an end to centuries of sectarian coexistence. They detained any Shiite choosing not to leave the city and demolished all Shiite mosques and shrines (32 mosques and shrines according to what officials from Shiite Waqf said) regarding such sites as places for infidelity. Not only this, but they started demolishing Shiite libraries and cultural centers, followed by knocking down all the houses possessed by political, administrative and security personalities from both sects, even the famous historical castle of the city was not left intact” Abu Saad said.

Abu Saad, who preferred to stay in the city believing that ‘ISIS invasion’ would only last for weeks and life would eventually return to its normality, says while looking to the scattered remains of the castle walls, ” What happened and is still happening now is something unbelievable. Within days half of the city’s population departed turning themselves into displaced immigrants in different lands, being replaced by fighters coming from Turkey, Azerbaijan, and from Turkish or semi-Turkish speaking countries. They have become the city leaders. This, in addition to those coming from Mosul and Ayadeya (a neighborhood administratively affiliated to Talafar).


Talafar folk in Pyramid of Leadership

Extensive relationships of the state’s leaders such as  Abu Anas Al Turkmani, and Abdul Rahman Mustafa Qado known as Alaa Al Afri who were formerly detained at Bucca Jail, which was administered by Americans prior to their departure from Iraq, assisted to turn Talafar into an incubator of ‘immigrant fighters’ (known as Mujahidists i.e. combatants motivated by a Muslim religious cause) and a prominent stronghold for ISIS organization.

Alaa Al Afri, who was working as a physics teacher during Sadam Hussein’s era, took the platform of Al Amri Mosque in Talafar, and is renowned for his inflammatory rhetoric against Shiites. He vanished for being chased by the security authority during the late rule epoch of Baath Party and then suddenly appeared after April 2003 as a prominent leader in Al Qaeda Organization. Such background  formed an effective factor to converting Talafar into a Mujahidists (combatants motivated by a Muslim religious cause).

As for Al Afri who was repeatedly announced to have been killed during the period between 2004 and 2009 in the absence of any confirmation from ISIS organization, he had a role in the sectarian war that struck the city from 2004 to 2009, which according to official sources resulted in over 3000 victims and 6000 wounded from the city dwellers.

The list of the city sons holding high positions in the state keeps extending to include Mustafa Karmoush, aka ‘Abu Salah’, and well-known By Talafar fighters as one of the prominent financial officials. The list also includes Bashar Ismael Al Hamdani, aka ‘ Abu Muhammed’ who is also an outstanding administrative official in the organization. The list also includes Ouf Abdul Rahman Al Afri, aka ‘Abu Saji’ and well-known to be a prominent official taking charge of social affairs in the organization.


Turks, Azerbaijanis, Chechens

Turkmen officials refer to closely approximate figures of the expatriate fighters who were housed in Talafar. In this regard, Turkmen MB, Nahla Al-Hababi referred to the housing of 300 Turkish, Chechen and European families. In the same context, Nour Eldeen Kablan, member of the executive authority in Turkmen front, says that the organization presented 200 homes to the families of its elements coming from Syria, including Qablan house, in addition to converting dozens of apartment buildings into security stations and depots for supplies and ammunitions.

Arrivals from Mosul and Al Ayadiah in total have held administrative positions, whereas expatriates coming from abroad, including Abu Omar, have obtained executive security posts and financial positions. Both factions were offered houses in the Shiite neighborhoods east and south of Talafar which were emptied from their inhabitants. They have also gotten booties at the beginning of war, when the organization overpowered the areas of Sinjar and Ninoy Valley.

Abu Omar, is one of the organization leaders working with the Islamic police as per ‘Hesba’ (Islamic term meaning that the ruler of a Muslim state is the one responsible for assigning those who can show people what’s right and forbid them from committing any wrongdoing) and is responsible for calling those breaking the state’s laws to account.

Amir appeared in his grey Afghani attire in the sitting room of his abode on the first day of Eid ( Muslim feast) and spoke to his guests in Turkish language about the importance of solidarity with the needy and orphans, a sacred duty that is heavenly compensated. He also talked about the new videos released by the state with the objective of highlighting its security and service achievements to the public.


Traceless Absentees

In Karbala. 600 km south of Talafar, where the family of Ali Mahmoud settled in the Shiite sacred city early in July after fleeing ISIS, Ali’s eyes were filled with tears and his words were caught in his throat, while receiving Eid congratulations from his Karbalai neighbor  who asked him about his missing brother. Moments after speechless discomposure and bewildering looks, he answered while trying to cover his teary eyes, “Nothing new…. We don’t know whether he’s dead or alive.. It’s the third Eid ( Muslim feast) without any news about him.”

Ali’s brother is one of hundreds missing in Talafar after being dominated by ISIS who converted the city into a large jail for thousands of Yazidis, Shiites and Sunnis, being accused of supporting Iraqi government as said by Yazidi activist Jameel Shenkali who is also quoted as saying, ” The city has been turned into a large detention camp with walls concealing hundreds of tragic stories about the torture of Yazidi women captives, horrendous stories of buying and selling women who are also exposed to assault, torture and even killing.”

Reports issued in the autumn of 2014 by some civil organizations and study centers indicate that a number ranging between 300 and 400 Turkmen were either killed or vanished during and after ISIS took command in Talafar, including 60 women and 70 children. A close number to this is mentioned by Nahla Hussein Hababi, a lady representative for the Turkmen Front, who indicated that the number of the kidnapped Turkmen reached as high as 416, the majority of which are women and children.

However, such figures seem reserved. In July 2015 the spokesman for the Turkmen Front, Ali Mahdi, said that the front has lists of 800 Turkmen girls and women who were detained by ISIS and who were exposed to human trafficking, not to mention the other male detainees.


Mass Extermination

A thread of hope for the civil detainees, who are still alive, seems to be totally broken up, with the news that have been coming from Tal Afar for months, confirming that ‘ISIS’ organization had carried out individual as well as mass executions of Shiite civilians.

“Large – scale executions were perpetrated in the wake of storming the city within minutes in the Sharia courts run by the organization’s ‘Emirs”, says Abu Israa, a Sunni citizen from Tal Afar, who is still staying in the city.

“Execution campaigns in the city have never ever ceased, some of which are perpetrated in public… This is not confined to any particular sect or group, but it extends to include ‘Sunni and Shiite traitors alike’, who are suspected of being disloyal, in spite of declaring their repentance, and anyone that might dare to smuggle Yazidi women.” says Abu Israa, who is still secretly keeping in touch with a few number of his Shiite close friends, even though this is regarded as a crime punished by capital punishment.

“From time to time, we hear about people being slaughtered, but no one ever dares to ask why. Victims are most often accused of being former security elements or prominent civil servants or senior officials, who have been hiding somewhere, or they might be common citizens cooperating with the government or charged with treason or espionage or accused of giving any information about the organization’s whereabouts. There is no exception. Slaughter extends to reach each and everyone; Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Yazidis, and sometimes expatriates.” he says.


Innovated Slaughter Methods

As regards methods of carrying out execution, Abu Israa says,” Death penalty is perpetrated in many ways, the most noticeable of which is throwing offenders alive into ‘Alw Antar’ well, north of Baghdad, others are shot down in the empty square of the ‘military neighborhood’ and sometimes in the old car garage space, while others are brutally beheaded.”

Executions are most often carried out by masked executioners; neither their identity nor their nationality is known to common people. However, in some flogging punishments, doers reveal their faces, amongst whom are Turkmen from the very city dwellers. “I can recognize some of them personally, some can realize that what they’re doing is the application of the ‘rule of Allah’, others are mere culprits caring only about their own interests.” ‘Abu Asraa adds.

Social researcher, Kadhem Sulliman, sees that the organization’s experience in instilling sensations of horror and terror amongst the public is actually the most influential weapon manipulated by them, in addition to sectarian mobilization. ” Fear is what governs the organization’s states, nothing else. They never cease to instill fright in many different ways day after day, including ‘Hesba’ police, who keep reminding you anywhere you go of the great punishment awaiting you.”, he says.

Every day, Abu Omar and his companions, who avoid mentioning the countries they came from or their ‘Jihad’ past, patrol markets and residential areas in their police cars or on motorcycles, so as to supervise “the ‘application of ‘Sharia limitations’ and prevent any apparent religious wrongdoings’, starting with gender mixture or female excessive adornment, or non-Islamic Mullahs’ attires or symbols’, as well as banning liquors and alcoholics, or any recordings contradicting the state’s declared directives, and ending in forbidding any practices of magic or sorcery or gambling or perpetration of harlotry.”

The so-called ‘Hesba’ police hand in detained offenders to the state’s ‘Sharia’ judges, who are entrusted with applying the rulings of ‘Sharia law’ in their judgments, including flogging, stoning, imprisonment, hand amputation, or even capital punishment.”.


State plagued with Fear

“Government offices open their doors as normal, service departments operate regularly, and any reluctance or absence from work is strictly faced… Services are much better than two years earlier; several streets have been paved, and public gardens were opened, alleys have become much cleaner.. Citizens have been disburdened from their water and power bills.” said Mohammed Khalil, in portraying another aspect of life in the city.

Khalil describes the supply of fuel and electricity as good. “People’s generators operate in case of any power failures, and water supply is better than it was before the state’s rule, but oil and gas worth double their price in Iraq.”

Abdul Qader, a retired teacher, denies what is being said about any disruption of study. “Students were attending school regularly last year. They were taught the same old curricula after deleting some subjects.. However, the new curricula have been printed and would be taught in the new year. Female students attend their classes regularly but they were obligated to wear ‘Al-Khemar’ on equal footing with other girls.”

That same issue was confirmed by a female student at the preparatory stage. “We attended school like every other year, but the organization deputized an official in every school to supervise the performance of the teaching staff and the girls’ commitment to wearing ‘Alhijab’ or ‘AlKhemar’.

Wafaa points out that people’s garments have completely changed. “Most men, particularly employees, wear Afghani attire.. Elders still put on their normal ‘Deshdash’, some youth are dressed in civil clothes, like youngsters, conditional on not being tight. As for women, they wear ‘Abayaat’ (loose, long gowns) that can protect the whole body or ‘Al-Khemar’.. They all got accustomed to their garments.”

That sense of satisfaction concerning public services and education does not actually extend to include the health sector, since many medicines and medical requirements are not available for citizens. Nobody can have his medicine needs without having connections with the state’s officials, who keep on storing most drugs to cure their fighters. Meanwhile, there is a shortage in the number of physicians, particularly specialists.

” I’m quite aware of this shortage, since my father has a diseased heart and we are always worried about the deterioration of his condition, as he needs some medical tests or surgical intervention . If his condition worsens, his life will be threatened, even if we choose to hospitalize him in Mosul.”

“Jihad Al Nekaah”

Jameel Saeed, who lives in Al-Qadesseya neighborhood, where both Sunnis and Shiites used to co-exist together, before being recently converted into a Sunni locality, denies the stories repeatedly heard about “Jihad Al Nekaah” . We’ve heard a lot about it in the media, but we’ve not seen or heard of anybody knocking doors, and no family was asked about their girls’ number. We’ve never encountered anything of this kind.”.

“It’s a lie.. If “Jihad Al Nekaah” is present somewhere else, it actually has no existence in Tal Afar”, Saeed said pointing out that many expatriate fighters came accompanied with their wives and kids. “Some bachelors got married to Muslim girls or took a Yazidi woman as a spouse.” He said.

Saeed confirms that most of the organization fighters, Arabs and foreigners alike, are religiously committed. “They live a normal life, supporting and caring for their families. Fighters amongst them receive monthly salaries exceeding $ 300 together with food subsidies, and enjoy periodical leaves. Their relationships with other families are rather limited, but some of them began to make strong ties with the indigenous population Of Tal Afar “. He said.

Many of the people, whom the author of this report approached, see that most of the  foreign fighters within the organization are observing the well-known ‘Sharia restrictions’ of the Sunni sect, and respect the other social common norms.

Ahmad, who is in his 50s, established good friendly ties with some Emirs, after some members of his family had joined the state organization. In the course of his comment on expatriate fighters, he said,” We’ve not seen from them anything inconsistent in their behaviors. Most of them believe in ‘Jihad’ and think that much goodness is awaiting them in the paradise, some of them seem strict, but they are greatly committed to their own households.”


Cads’ Camps

Ahmad, who owns some farming lands within the periphery of Tal Afar, discovered, by virtue of his ties, at least three camps in various areas. “These camps are ‘specified for training and qualifying Shiite and Yazidi youngsters, who were forced by ‘ISIS’ to quit their faith or sect and join them in fighting battles and carrying out suicidal attacks. Meanwhile, they are being taught the ‘Jihad ‘ ideology.”. Ahmad said.

“There are other camps allocated for Tal Afar youth as well as other Turkish and Caucasian immigrants who had come from outside Iraq and joined the organization”, Ahmad said

Fate of Yazidi Women

Ahmad’s information is confirmed by his brother Kareem, but neither of them has any information about the destiny of Yazidi women. “We know nothing about them. We’ve just heard that several of them were converted to Islam and live a new normal life.”. Kareem said.

“We’ve heard a lot about them during the early months of ‘ISIS’ invasion.  They were accommodated in many homes and locations within the city, but in later months and with the many escape attempts made by some of them, and with the punishing of some of the city dwellers for that, we heard nothing about them. Some were transferred to Syria, and common people cannot see any of them now, neither anyone can ask about them, but some of the state’s Emirs talk about their detention in security locations together with other Turkmen detainees. ” Kareem added.

” I don’t really know why female detainees have not been released yet. Many of them are actually a financial and security burden. I once heard from an Emir that they want to keep them as an asset for any future negotiation on the state’s captives, or even sell them if need requires. It is said that Yazidis in Kurdistan are ready to have their own wives and daughters back each at $10,000 or even more, and such amounts of money tempt the organization.” He said.


Baghdad’s Booties and Salaries

Economic life in Tar Afar is not actually much different from the other areas controlled by Baghdad’s government, as confirmed by those who spoke to the author of this report.

” Talk about scarcity of food stuffs or high rise in prices or the non-availability of some items, is something sarcastic. The price of vegetables is generally less, but food materials including oil, flour, and rice are a little higher.”,  says Abdullah Hammat, owner of a food store at Al-Qalaa Market. He says with a smile, ” Everything is available. From time to time, the Islamic State distributes food subsidies among the fighters’ families.”

As regards the circulated currencies and trading system, he says, “You can get anything. Roads to Syria are wide open and one can travel from there to Turkey through Al-Reqa and Jarablis. Yet, Iraq’s local currency is still the mostly used, but in Syria, the Syrian lira and sometimes the Turkish lira are used.”

However, Hatem Taha, a shepherd and meat trader, confirms a decline in the purchasing power among citizens in general. “In the early months of the state’s operations, situations were excellent, since sheep were available in addition to the multiplicity of financing sources. But during the last period, the purchasing power declined, dragging with it the economic movement in general. Only few people could afford buying meat, even though the worth of one kilo from the best quality of meat is not more than 10,000 dinar.” He said.

Taha explains the causes behind the ongoing change. “A short time ago, employees were receiving their salaries from Iraq’s government, but most of those salaries stopped to come.. Hundreds of families were relying on such payments for insuring their own basic needs of food. As for the other requirements, they are fairly cheap… $5oo can secure you a good life here.” He said.


Carrot and Stick

On the basis of ‘carrot and stick’ policy or rather reward and punishment, life goes on in the cities ruled by the state’s ‘Emirs”

“The organization has bolstered its presence through establishing a network of relations with the tribes’ dignitaries on the basis of mutual interests and mutual share in decision- making and booties. And after intensifying the punishment methods, executions are carried out by them almost every week, for anyone accused of treason.”

“Not only this, but they organize  military parades where fighters can be seen wearing their speckled Afghan attire and black masks, and carrying their Kalashnikovs, PKC, and (RBG 7) launchers.”, said Abu Al-Hassan, who was then confined to his home, after quitting  his life-long work in buying and selling estates.

“The organization has now secret jails, unknown to common people, but they also use some schools and empty buildings as prisons known by many people, such as the building of the Nursing College and that of Zeinab Intermediate Girls’ School.”, he said.


Turkmen Mujahideen

Ragaa is a girl in her 20s from a Sunni family. Many of her family members joined the organization even before  militants could impose their control over Tal Afar. She reveals one of the aspects of fighters’ lives. ” Many of the Turkmen youth have persuasively joined the state’s ranks, my brother is amongst them… They are convinced that the state’s rule is much better than the hegemony of Baghdad’s sectarian government. Nowadays, you can see many of the Sunni sons playing a role in the city’s administration, not to mention their sense of privilege.” She says.

Ragaa’s brother met his end in a confrontation with Beshmerga in Zamaar area, and his body has not yet been recovered. She said that the youth who joined the state receive a monthly salary of $120 together with other food subsidies, whereas fighters serving in areas away from their residence areas collect higher amounts.

Raga’s family’s relation with the organization facilitated her possession of a luxurious house that was once owned by a Shiite officer, and she takes the matter easy, no problem. “It was a well-furnished house, and so we lived in it and distributed some of its contents among our close friends.. Anyone not owning a home to shelter them can take a licence from the state and live in a deserted house.” She said.

But Iyaad, a married young man with two children, objected to his family’s transfer to a similar luxurious house seized by his brother but at the end of the day he agreed for fear of being accused of sympathizing with Shiites. ” I don’t know.. Yes, we are a poor family, and the house was empty. But I’m not quite sure that what we’ve done is right. .. I fear the future.” He said.


Obligatory Pray

The organization makes sure that city dwellers say all their prayers at its specified times within mosques, and warns markets’ shoppers against being absent from mosques during praying times. To them, mosques are considered the most prominent propaganda platforms to transfer orders. Meanwhile, the organization renovated some Sunni mosques and expanded them, but they destroyed all Shiite mosques and intently left all debris behind.

Abdullah Ali says that mosques are crowded with worshippers, particularly on Fridays, when orators ascend pulpits, “talking about Jihadism, and other ideological, and political matters, besides transferring new instructions to worshippers.”

Sheikh Hashim Khalaf, the former spokesman for “Tal Afar Clans Entrustment  Council’ estimates the Shiite religious sites that had been blown up by the organization as 32 sites, including mosques and shrines, the most important of which are; Imam Saad Shrine, Khedr Ilias Shrine, Al-Sayed Ahmad Shrine, Ahl Al Beit Mosque, Al- Sadeq Mosque, Al-Hakeem Mosque, Ali Bin Abi Taleb Mosque, Imam Hassan Al-Askari Husseunia Shrine, The Expected Imam Husseunia Shrine, and Althaqlyn Husseunia shrine.

Sheikh Khalaf expressed his deep regret Tal Afar’s support to the organization. “As a matter of fact, they managed to mass thousands of supporters, who joined hands with hardliners and got involved in their crimes.”, he said.


Getting implicated in Murder

Jawad Ali, a Shiite from Tal Afar and now living in Najaf, sees that the large majority of Sunnis in the city are powerless, most of them reject killing any human being on sectarian or religious basis, but regretfully there are extremists amongst them, with authority in their hands, and there are others who only care for their own interests, and those can slaughter anyone who dares to disagree with them.”, Jawad said.

Mohammed sees that the return of Shiites to Tal Afar is getting more and more complicated so long as the situation remains as it is. “‘ISIS’ has its supporters that are increasing in number and the crimes committed by them are on the rise with the passage of time.”, he said.

He expresses his persuasion that those actually pose the greatest danger     ” Perhaps those coming from outside the borders go back home, once they feel their presence has become impossible or costly. But those involved with the organization who had committed crimes will never ever surrender or give up, but fight fiercely.”

Mohammed has not hidden his indignation about the way the war against the organization is administered, ” There are some 125,000 homeless refugees between Iraq’s southern cities and Kurdistan, long waiting for the hour of salvation. But all what is happening now is bombing a site or two once every few days or even weeks, and most often wrong targets are bombed. They targeted Tal Afar Hospital twice and some other service circles were targeted a score of times, something that inflames people’s rage.”


End of Shiite Existence

Ali Abbas, a migrant from Karbala, has that same melancholic vision as regards repatriation, ” Soon after the departure of “ISIS”, life will not return to normal.. Sectarian wars will flare up anew, since there are deep wounds in every home that need to be healed.”. He said

Like many émigrés now settling south of Iraq, with their different cultures and languages, Abbas find it difficult to start a new life away from his life-long home. “With the ongoing war and poverty, our life has been turned into a nightmare here… I’m trying hard to seek any opportunity to immigrate overseas.”, He said.

That same sense of ‘frustration and estrangement’ is shared by Ahmad Al-Talafarri, another Sunni emigre to Arbil, who confirms that any attempt to restore the past looks much like the organization’s attempts to build a new life in his city. “Something that will never ever happen.. We’ll need years to reconstruct the social fabric of the society. This is because many are thinking of revenge.”

Al-Talafarri said, “If you stand in any Shiite neighborhood now and see the vacated houses with their doors wide open, and watch the debris of delapidated buildings and see how the Shiite mosques being flattened to the ground. Only then you can realize that normal life will never ever be back as normal as before. You can also realize that it is impossible for those ’emigre Mujahedeen’ to replace the departed city dwellers.”

But Fatima Hussein, wife of a Shiite fighter who was killed in a suicidal operation early last June after joining the Popularmass , confirms that the dream of return to her city never left her. “We were possessing everything, houses, estates, agricultural lands.. Now we are empty-handed emigres living on charity aids.”

Fatima remained speechless while wiping her tears, and looking up at two photos hanging on a badly-cracked wall; one for her deceased husband and the other for one of her missing relatives. Then, with a traumatized voice, she said,  “My 17- year old son volunteered with themass , nobody could have prevented him, and he might be killed like his father before we could be back home to our usurped city”.

August 2015