Back to life


By: Ibrahim Sherkhan

From ICRC Iraq


"It’s in the dark, when I turn to bed, that the faces of Zeinab, Ahmed, Ferhad haunt me."

In my work as a communications officer, I have travelled often to the battle-scarred cities of Mosul, Bashiqa and Sinjar. Reaching these areas was not difficult. What was agonizing were the stories people shared: their experiences of war, displacement, and suffering.

Because the International Committee of the Red Cross is an organization that protects and assists people affected by war, I was often among the first to enter these cities after the fighting. Each time I visited Mosul I found myself caught in a whirlpool of emotions.

"Zeinab, Ahmed, Ferhad died before my eyes while struggling to cling to life at the hospital. In the background of people’s stories I hear the sound of shelling and cries of adults and children alike. In every journey I wish I could forget all that I had witnessed."

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At the mention of the name, I remember everything this region and its people experienced.

Today Sinjar is beautiful, but life is still tough; its people do not want to relive the nightmare they once endured. I recently met Sharihan, a woman from Sinjar who has lost her mother and brother. Her mother was killed in front of her eyes. She lives with her family and is unemployed. She told me that all she wants is to take her family away and abandon this place that only reminds her of what she's lost.



On a recent visit to Mosul, I met Om Nawwar, a woman who suffered considerable hardship during the siege. Still, she insists:  “I want to live; I don’t want to die!” For nearly two months, Om Nawwar lived with nearly 40 people in a cellar three metres underneath her house. There was a child among them in dire need of medical treatment. She was the only person strong enough to go out and fetch a medic to fit him with a bandage. Now, Om Nawwar has returned to her home with her son. She told me that although she is happy to be home, her life is still hard. Every day she has to struggle to secure the basic needs essential for survival, and in every corner of her house she relives memories of the peaceful life she had once led with her children and deceased husband, who loved cinema and arts.

While on the road...


What I saw in Zanjili and the old city of Mosul stunned me. All the stories you hear about the humanitarian crisis in Mosul can be read in a single glance at the face of any survivor.

Every time I return from Baghdad to Mosul, I relive all the scenes and details I witnessed. In Zanjili more than 300 people were killed while fleeing. Very few were able to reach the Mosul General Hospital - where I was based at the time - to tell us the appalling details of their escape. I visited Zanjili after the fighting was over, and listened to the harrowing stories of displaced people who have finally started to come home.

The wars in Iraq never personally affected me. But witnessing the suffering of the victims of war over the past two years brought on a chronic tension headache. Physicians have told me it is likely the result of the appalling scenes I saw so often.

War has ended. However, its tragedies are deeply entrenched in the psyches of its victims. These stories still haunt me nightly. The agony and suffering, the destruction of cities and families.

There is nothing more appalling than war.