Nour Zuhair, 11, with her grandfather, Suleiman Mohammed, in Kirkuk (photo: شالاو محمد )
It was fortune that saved 11-year-old Nour Zuhair’s life, but resulted in the death of her mother and siblings. The family decided to leave their home in the village of Sodour in Diyala province back in late 2014, shortly after the extremist group known as the Islamic State took over their town.
“We were farming in our village for more than 30 years,” Nour’s grandfather Suleiman Mohammed, told NIQASH. “We used to have 58 head of cattle. But when the Islamic State came we decided to leave and make our way to Kirkuk.”
My mother and father miss me and want me to go back, the little girl says.
That city has been under the control of the Iraqi Kurdish military for some time and is considered comparatively safe.
Mohammed says the family split up into three different cars on the way out of town.
“We saw many families in cars and trucks doing the same thing and by the time we got to the Miqdadiyah area, there were about a hundred vehicles,” Mohammed continues. “At that stage, military planes started to bombard us. The cars with Nour’s mother and her siblings were hit and they were all killed.”
Today Nour remains with her grandparents in a camp for displaced people in Kirkuk but she still says she wants to return home. “My mother and father miss me and want me to go back,” she told NIQASH, hopelessly.
The children living in areas around Kirkuk that were once considered safe, have been paying a high price for the ongoing fighting.
In the past Iraq’s High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that the country’s children are suffering unduly, thanks to the security crisis.
“Children are victims, and only victims,” says Fadhil al-Azzawi, a member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission. “Adults know their motivations for fighting the IS group but children don’t know why they are dying.”
The beginning of the campaign to push the IS group out of the city of Mosul has only made things worse, says Mohammed al-Haj Qader, a senior commander with the Iraqi Kurdish military in the Kirkuk area.
“More people are coming into the areas controlled by the Iraqi Kurdish military but there is a lot of danger and many are being killed or injured by roadside bombs,” Qader says. “A lot of the victims are children.
Recently an improvised explosive device killed five members of an eight-person family who were trying to leave the Hawija area. “Most of the victims were children,” Qader says.
Although the number of juvenile fatalities seems to be rising as a tide of displaced people leave their homes for safety during the current fighting, neither the security forces or the health services in the Kirkuk area had any statistics on this yet.
After the IS group bombed parts of the Taza area in early 2016, with what were suspected to be chemical weapons, hundreds of children came to the local hospital for check-ups along with their families.
“I heard a loud noise in the early morning that sounded like an explosion near our house,” says Sameer Ali, the father of a four-year-old called Fatima. “When I opened the bedroom door, a strange smell had already started to fill the house, the children were coughing and crying, and I realized that a rocket had landed in our garden.”
Fatima died before the family even got to the hospital and one of her siblings continues to need medical treatment after the attack.
“Children should not be dying as a result of the mistakes adults make,” another of Fatima’s relatives adds.