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Key Biodiversity Areas of Iraq BookKey Biodiversity Areas of Iraq

IF is proud to support Key Biodiversity Areas of Iraq, an in-depth analysis of critical areas throughout Iraq in desperate need of conservation. This book is the combined effort of Nature Iraq and the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environment, which began field research in 2004 to identify Iraq’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) that hold significant biological diversity with a range of animal species and plant life that must be protected. Follow the link above to learn more about the beauty of nature in Iraq and the importance of its preservation, and purchase a copy here on the Amazon marketplace.


Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar, is a time of piety and philanthropy for Iraqis practicing Islam. The rich traditions of the holiday center on food and community. Special breads, sweets, and juices are prepared and many families celebrate iftar together, breaking fast and practicing the Islamic tenant of generosity at each other’s homes or a local mosque. Ramadan is a time of joy and celebration, yet years of instability have altered Iraqis’ ability to partake in many traditions, changing the culture and practices of a treasured celebration. For refugees fleeing the country, internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps, and those living in cities and villages, cultural shifts have transformed how Ramadan is celebrated, deeply affecting all Iraqis.

The past fourteen years of conflict and destruction in Iraq have transformed virtually every aspect of life for the Iraqi people. This constant violence has had devastating effects and threatens a way of life that has existed for centuries. Though issues of politics, humanitarian crises, and safety usually dominate the international discourse surrounding Iraq, the cultural impacts of conflict are extensive and should not be ignored. The resulting shifts in the practice of Ramadan, a holiday categorized by generosity, celebration, and devotion, embody the harmfulrepercussions of violence and underline the importance of cultural preservation.

For those living in cities like Baghdad, celebration during Ramadan is clouded in fear, with recent acts of terror serving as a reminder of the constant threat of violence. Hayfaa al-Azawi, who lives in Baghdad with her children, recalls Ramadan after the United States invasion in 2003 and also during the time of Saddam; the government limited electricity and rations, so families were not able to cook many traditional dishes. She remembers trading sugar with local bakers in an attempt to buy some sweets for her family that she was unable to cook herself. Now, some don’t ever have electricity, and power outages are often a daily occurrence. This has led to unreliable refrigeration which forces women to purchase, prepare, and cook dishes all on the same day. Grueling work to say the least, especially during times of fasting.

Conflict has increased economic instability as well, and many cannot afford the ingredients needed to prepare dishes traditionally eaten during iftar. Financial uncertainty is widespread, with the breadwinners of countless families either imprisoned, dead, or disappeared. Those living in poverty and struggling to feed themselves on a daily basis are in more danger than ever, braving high temperatures during the day to search for food for their families at night. Before the wars and embargo, children would run from house to house searching for sweets and other special treats from their neighbors. Now, Iraqis struggle to provide for their own children and many have nothing to spare. Fear has marred the joyous and communal culture of Ramadan as families are more concerned with survival than celebration. Hayfaa’s husband Mohamed al-Azawi described how “you could be on your way to a mosque or someone’s house for iftar and a car bomb would go off,” sadly indicative of the normalcy of tragedy in Iraq.  Women who used to come together to make traditional meals now cook alone in their houses, and all Iraqis are fearful of being taken while out in public, as disappearances have become increasingly common. The new culture of violence erodes Iraqi traditions during Ramadan and emphasizes the deep rooted impacts of conflict on society.

Refugees living in camps during Ramadan face similar hardships in preserving their culture in times of crisis. Temperatures are steadily increasing and the danger of heatstroke is exacerbated by fasting. Families living in camps often walk long distances to get their daily water supply which is difficult in extreme heat, especially if these individuals are not eating for 19 hours out of the day. The call for prayer, the traditional signal to break the fast, rarely reaches camps, and most meals consist of daily rations instead of food typically eaten during Ramadan. The schedule of IDPs celebrating Ramadan occasionally conflicts with those working in the camps which can inhibit communication. Many Muslims sleep during the day while fasting, which is usually when workers are performing their day-to-day operations. This creates a disconnect between those living in camps and those working in them and some families miss vaccinations and other important announcements as a result.  For families and individuals migrating during Ramadan, fasting is sometimes impossible, as many have small children or simply are not well enough to fast at all. Migrants must make the difficult choice between adhering to religious tradition and maintaining their health.

Though the holy month of Ramadan is a time of celebration and giving, many are too concerned with survival to enjoy the traditions of the holiday. Conflict has permeated every aspect of Iraqi life, even the most hopeful and festive celebrations, and this loss deserves recognition. Culture is the foundation of identity, and acknowledging the importance of Ramadan’s unique traditions in Iraq and how these traditions shift is paramount to preserving Iraqi society.


By Emma Sampson

Within the wide breadth of destruction left in the wake of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), the group’s agenda of eliminating cultural heritage struck a particular nerve for those watching the horrors unfold around the globe. While Da’esh’s horrific treatment of Iraqis and Syrians is not to be understated, the organization’s active decision to cleanse Iraq of its diverse, multifaceted, and irreplaceable artifacts of cultural history flies in the face of human decency and a collective sense of progress; we gage the advancements of our collective human society by understanding our origins and beginnings. In a more formalized sense, these acts also violate UNESCO’s Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and our codified international understandings of historical preservation.

In the shadow of Da’esh and its upcoming inevitable defeat in Mosul, however, members of the global artistic community have sought to preserve, recreate, and re-engineer elements of the Tigris River Valley’s millennia-old artistic tradition.

Last month in London, Michael Rakowitz unveiled his vision inspired by the destruction of Ninawa in the form of his new piece, entitled “The Invisible Enemy Should not Exist.” The artwork, a sculpture of the winged bull Lamassu, is a recreation of a sculpture that “stood at the Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700BC until it was destroyed by the extremist group in Mosul’s museum.” Its recreation, however, is in many ways a somber reflection of a legacy that can never be recovered – Rakowitz’s statue will be made from dated syrup tin cans instead of the original’s marble to demonstrate Iraq’s industry having been “destroyed, like the bull, by war.”

Despite this somber overtone, not all artists subscribe to such a macabre perspective. Nino Thabet, an 18 year old Iraqi artist who studied art at Mosul University, recently started to craft miniature replicas of statues destroyed by Da’esh, such as Lamassu, in nearby Erbil. Thabet is not so naive as to suggest that his art makes up for the “antiquities of [his] country, a civilization that is thousands of years old,” but states that his art sends a global message that “we want to rebuild our civilization and continue to grow artistically.”

Across the Atlantic, Samar Abdulrahman, a refugee settled in Kennewick, Washington, finds a personal connection to her family and Iraqi heritage through art. Separated from her brother, Omar, who is also an artist, Abdulrahman paints pictures that connect her new life in the United States with imagery of the Baghdad of her childhood, and in turn, with her brother who still resides there. Her paintings are reflective of both the beautiful country she was raised in, and of the promise of family reunification and a future that is “happy and safe.”

While the artwork of Rakowitz, Thabet, and Abdulrahman reflect differing viewpoints and memories of recent Iraqi history, they more importantly echo the endurance of Iraq’s artistic and cultural legacy, one that extends beyond antiquity and into an infinite, as-of-yet-unwritten future. In this continuing heritage, it reaffirms the urgency of protecting and preserving Iraq’s cultural record, one that is still under threat of extinction, while we, as a global community, still have the opportunity. Their artistry is a testament to the influence of an Iraqi cultural legacy that resonates the world over, reverberating outwards from the headlines we read, the art we preserve, and the stories its refugees tell.


By Connor McInerney

As the coalition offensive to retake crossMosul from Da’esh continues, various communities displaced by the group’s terror have sought to return to their historic and cultural communities. Included within this group is Iraq’s Christian population, many of whom left home in Ninewa at the start of the conflict in June of 2014. While Iraqi and American forces continue to close in on the heart of Da’esh in Iraq, the newly liberated areas outside of the city have seen the return of Iraqi Christians, some of whom continue to fight for their homeland as Da’esh’s influence wanes in the region.

In Qaraqosh, the story of Syriac Catholics standing up to radical extremism has been one of hardship and hope. Syriac priests returning to the community’s Church of the Immaculate Conception found their place of worship, “blackened by fire, [its] alter vandalized,” and its bell tower “disfigured by cannon fire, and the bell itself gone, snatched from its chain.” Additionally, efforts to completely free the town from Da’esh influence have been hindered by the group’s sustained presence in the region; Da’esh has utilized suicide car bombs following the beginning of the Mosul offensive, and the area still sees its fair share of sniper and mortar fire.

However, despite these difficulties, the Qaraqosh community remains resolute in reestablishing their church and defending the community. A local Christian militia, the Nineveh Protection Units, has assisted the Iraqi army in combating terror, manifesting some additional progress in fully liberating the town. Most inspiringly, local religious figureheads were able to affix a makeshift cross to the roof of the church, in addition to leading local militias in worship for the first time since the start of the conflict.

Elsewhere in Nineveh, displaced Christians who fled Da’esh found refuge at the Mar Mattai Monastery northeast of the city. Defended by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Iraqi Christians left both Mosul and areas immediately outside of the city en masse for the monastery, in search of basic necessities and housing. As Da’esh further established itself within northern Iraq from mid 2014 to 2015, Iraqi Syriacs could only wait patiently within the sanctum of Mar Mattai, assisted by monks comprising a 1600 year old community based at the monastery.

With the influx of forces combating Da’esh in the area, local Christians have been able to resettle in the villages surrounding the Alfaf Mountain, where the monastery is based. The peace remains tenuous at the best, with the community occasionally needing to defend itself from encroaching Da’esh fighters; however, while the entirety of the Syriac population has yet to return, many have reestablished themselves within their ancestral homeland.

While optimism prevails within these enclaves north of Mosul, refugees living outside of Iraq often feel differently about returning. Some Christian refugees living in Amman, Jordan, resolutely refuse to ever return to Iraq, seeking asylum in countries like Australia. According to one mother, “we paid the price and I don’t want to go back in a few years and go through it again.” Despite the progress of the United States-Iraqi coalition, IDPs and refugees will undoubtedly live with the legacy of Da’esh for years to come.

By Connor McInerney

Photo Credit: The Daily Beast

cvj_dhlwiaawapyIn efforts to completely annihilate polio around the world and mark the commemoration of World Polio Day, two United Nations agencies have partnered with the Iraqi Ministry of Health to launch a week-long nationwide campaign to immunize Iraqi children against the rampant viral disease. Promoting the slogan “two drops can change a life”, the campaign will attempt to vaccinate an estimated 5.8 million Iraqi children below the age of five.

Directly attacking the nervous system, polio remains a highly infectious viral disease targeting the global youth population. Young children especially below age five, remain at high risk for the rampant disease. With immediate and effective vaccinations worldwide, the eradication of polio proves both possible and likely in the next decade.

UNICEF Iraq Representative Peter Hawkins affirmed Iraq’s national strides to eliminate polio stating that,“The Government of Iraq is committed to polio eradication, and conducted 16 campaigns to that end in 2014 and 2015 as part of the Middle East Polio Outbreak response.” Immense progress has been made on Iraq’s vaccination frontier in the past two years. As of April of 2014, no new polio cases have been reported. In May of 2015, Iraq was then removed from the world’s list of active polio infected countries.

Although polio remains rampant across several countries in the Middle East including Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iraq has remained a pioneer for the complete and total eradication of this infectious disease. The Iraq Polio Partnership has conducted 2 national immunization rounds in February and April of this year. These attempts at total vaccination coverage, reached over 91% of the Iraqi population.

Combating possible resurgence in the country, the Iraqi Ministry of Health will target and focus specifically on vulnerable populations of children residing in Internally Displaced Persons and Syrian Refugee Camps, informal settlements, affected communities, and retaken areas. This month’s campaign will mobilize more than 25,000 vaccinators, traveling house to house, visiting  with and vaccinating young children. Complicating efforts to aid at-risk youth, conflict has limited vaccination progress within high-risk populations. Making strides to end polio globally, Iraq has succeeded in maintaining high levels of vaccination coverage and surveillance across the country, especially in these war-ridden regions.

By KaLynn Wood

Photo Credit: UNICEF

The Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq
Paul MacAlindin


“Iraqi Teen Seeks Maestro For Youth Orchestra”


 This unassuming headline compelled a successful Scottish conductor to set off on a life-altering odyssey to one of the most dangerous countries on earth. In his fascinating memoir, Paul MacAlindin recounts how he and an inspiring 17-year-old piano protégé built the first ever Youth Orchestra of Iraq from the ashes of the Iraq War.

Upbeat is the story of Paul and the orchestra he helped create. How do you pull together a diverse orchestra of both Arabs and Kurds (not natural colleagues), young musicians some who are self-taught; many without proper instruments; and all of whom have suffered immensely from tyranny and war? And perhaps most crucially of all, how can you make beautiful music when you are living through hell?

This is the fascinating story of how music brought purpose and hope to the amazingly talented, yet shamefully under-served youth of Iraq.

Paul MacAlindin discovered from an early age that he loved being an artist leading artists. As a musician, dancer, and all-round performer, he found his voice through conducting, a passionate journey that has led him to work with orchestras and ensembles all over the world, from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to the Armenian Philharmonic to the Düsseldorf Symphoniker.



“The great adventure of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq deserves not only to be recorded for posterity
but also to serve as an example of how the essential can survive catastrophe.”
-Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

“Be prepared to laugh, cry and – above all – to discover music’s power to overcome seemingly irreconcilable
differences and create harmony out of chaos.”
-Julian Lloyd Webber

“An amazing and deeply inspiring story.”
-Book of the Month (August), The Bookseller

“Upbeat is an eloquently-written, moving and sometimes funny book. Its title, taken from the gesture that
conductors make to indicate the beat that leads into a new bar of music, is symbolic of change and progress.
It also describes the mindset that was often required of MacAlindin and his team in testing circumstances.”
-The National (UAE)

“Fragile, precarious, quixotic and almost insanely heroic.”
-BBC Music Magazine

“One of the most unlikely, and genuinely heroic, stories you’re ever likely to read.”
-The Spectator

“The fact that any sort of orchestra could be brought together seems a miracle.”
-The Daily Telegraph

“Even if it doesn’t reform, the orchestra was a victory for art and light in the face of darkness. And in the
year of Chilcot, Mr MacAlindin’s Upbeat seems a timely homage to this fragile but beautiful thing created
by an inspirational Scot and the bravery and dedication of the musicians.”
-The Herald

“Upbeat serves as an inspiring and insightful guide towards understanding a land too long dominated by
war and violence.”
-The Express

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This week, the Pentagon confirmed a previous account by defense officials indicating that Islamic State militants recently used chemical weapons against US troops based at the Qayyarah Airfield, a key location in the upcoming offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS. The weapon in question, a rocket shell that landed “within the security perimeter” of the airfield, was confirmed to contain a mustard agent after testing by US troops. Despite the attack’s proximity to US military personnel, no one was injured in the attack, nor was anyone exposed to the chemical agent afterwards.

While the Islamic State has used chemical weapons against combatants in Syria, specifically against the Kurdish Peshmerga, this is the first time chemical weapons have been used by ISIS against the United States, and the first time mustard gas has been used against the US since World War I. However, according to a recent statement by Colonel Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a former commanding officer of the UK Chemical Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment who is assisting in the training of Kurdish Peshmerga forces, ISIS is gearing up for a potential widespread chemical attack near Mosul.

de Bretton Gordon said in statement Thursday that, according to recent intelligence, ISIS may intend to explode a chemical plant situated between the Qayyarah airbase and the city of Mosul, the fallout of which would affect US and Iraqi forces, in addition to civilian populations within a ”radius of 6-10 miles.” The chemical plant, thought to contain “thousands of tons of sulfur and hydrogen sulfide,” could contribute to an enormous environmental disaster; a fire at the plant in 2003 released enough sulfur dioxide into the air to hospitalize hundreds of Iraqis with breathing problems, in addition to destroying all surrounding vegetation for miles.

If the Islamic State seeks to implement chemical weapons indiscriminately against civilians, as it has in the past according to the United Nations, it constitutes another war crime perpetuated by the organization at the behest of the Iraqi people, and violates the Geneva Gas Protocol as well as the Statute of the International Criminal Court. While Iraq is not party to the ICC and by default outside of its jurisdiction, a resolution by the U.N. Security Council could prompt an investigation by the ICC and lead to prosecution for those accountable within the Islamic State leadership. Additionally, it is possible for the Security Council to establish an ad hoc criminal tribunal following the end of the Islamic State similar to the tribunal created following the Rwandan Genocide.

Additionally, in a more likely scenario, foreign fighters who have left their country of origin to fight for ISIS are subject to trial by the Court if their home country is presently a member of the ICC. Therefore, the majority of European-born ISIS fighters could be tried without a resolution of the P5, as most of these countries are ICC members.

These represent a few approaches through which some measure of justice can be attained on behalf of Iraqi citizens, whose lives have been uprooted and forever changed by the presence of the Islamic State.

By Connor McInerney

As the Iraqi government advances their timeline to overtake the Islamic State – controlled  city of Mosul, many question the readiness of not only the Iraqi government, but also the Iraqi people. The Islamic State has trapped an estimated 1.2 million people inside the city of Mosul, in addition to the nearly 800,000 Iraqis living in surrounding areas. Experts estimate the current amount of internally displaced Iraqi people at a staggering 3.5 million citizens. The Iraqi government’s sudden push for the re-capture of Mosul from the Islamic State by the end of the year further complicates the already drastic situation regarding population displacement. Humanitarian agencies around the world have organized preparation efforts for what has become the single largest, and most complex humanitarian operation in the world this year . Racing against the clock to prepare the basic necessities of emergency camps, water, and health services, many experts worry that time has run out.

Examining previous liberation efforts in Fallujah, the insufficient preparation prior to military advances against the Islamic state resulted in the absence of dire necessities such as food, water, shelter, and medicine. The failed assistance to the displaced population proved the cause of many unnecessary deaths. This lack of preparation prior to the advancement of military forces has resulted in the failure to implement effective infrastructure or integrate marginal populations in the future. Returning to the liberated city, many civilians struggle to pass through rigid security checkpoints. Any family with even distant ties to the Islamic State will be turned away and forced into exile, fleeing to any remaining territory controlled by the jihadists. Although the process of repopulating the city remains tedious and difficult, admitted civilians that once called Fallujah home return to an abyss of leveled debris and destruction, no water or electricity, and rampant oil fires.

In regards to the recent liberation of the city of Qayyarah in late August, although the Iraqi government has ousted the presence of the Islamic state, the city remains in complete turmoil. Dead bodies, explosive devices, and mines litter the streets. Oil flows through the city, contaminating any access to water. Fires rage, darkening the air with thick smoke. The destruction of the city has greatly impacted the health of returning citizens, as the air remains poisoned with pollution from the retreat of the insurgents. Although a growing lack of infrastructure pervades the city of Qayyarah, many returning citizens, scarred by their experience, retain their allegiance to Iraqi military forces in hopes of liberating Mosul, the final Islamic State stronghold in Iraq.

The need for immediate worldwide, humanitarian assistance for Mosul remains essential, particularly in relation to its staggering population size in comparison to Fallujah and Qayyarah. The second-largest city in Iraq, Mosul remains the last pillar of strength for the Islamic State in  the country. With estimates of nearly 1 million Iraqis readying to flee Mosul, and as many as 700,000 likely in need of basic assistance, humanitarian partners struggle to fund and prepare for the volume of assistance the liberation of Mosul will demand. Issuing a flash appeal for $284 million in July, only half of the projected funding has been received to date. Experts and humanitarian partners around the globe race to prepare and ready a plan for the future of Mosul, hoping to combat the challenges faced previously by the liberation’s of Fallujah and Qayyarah. As Iraqi military forces begin to loosen the Islamic State’s hold on Mosul, the need for immediate humanitarian assistance and effective planning for a post- Islamic state has become vital.

By KaLynn Wood

The Iraq Foundation mourns the death of Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid. She was an architect of global renown, winning the Pritzker Architecture Prize, among many others, for her bold and convention-shattering designs. The world has lost a brilliant architect, and Iraqis have lost a rare beacon of greatness.



Mrs. Al-Jarahi recently completed her university degree. IF is extremely proud of her accomplishment and her hard work.