The sound of gunfire welcomed Zakaria Saad Jassim into the world. He was born in Mosul on October 17. That was the same day Iraqi forces, backed by 40 militias, attacked Daesh in its de-facto capital in Iraq. For Umm Zakaria, it was a night of mixed emotions.
“I couldn’t hold back my tears,” the mother of five told TRT, in an interview at the Khazer camp for the internally displaced, speaking of the day she gave birth. “On the one hand, my baby was born alive. But he was born on a day of war.”
They fled Mosul days after Zakaria was born. Now, the baby and his family are living alongside 40,000 displaced Iraqis who come from across the historic Nineveh Plains, a region that lies to the north-east of Mosul.
The area, which lies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, has been a staging ground for many civilizations over several millennia. From the Mesopotamians and the Assyrians to the Arabs and the Mongols, all came and ruled over Nineveh, leaving behind traces of a rich past. The city of Nineveh was one of the greatest cities of antiquity.
In recent years, the area had been taken over by the terrorist group Daesh, as it occupied the nearby city of Mosul. In its quest for supremacy, and destroying what it considered to be symbols of sin, Daesh attempted to erase the region’s storied past, destroying ancient temples and shrines.
Now Daesh is in retreat. It has lost ground to the Shia, Kurdish and Sunni forces who have advanced in their drive to dislodge the terror group from Mosul and beyond.
An estimated 100,000 people have been displaced during two months of fighting. Many were confined to refugee camps such as Khazer, where our team met Baby Zakaria.
Conditions there are difficult for both the child and his parents to bear. Lack of nutrition and poor sanitation have taken a toll on the boy’s little body. Not only is his weight well below average, but warts cover Zakaria’s feet and hands.
“We can only pray,” Zakaria’s father said in a resigned tone. Saad Jassim Mohammad has been begging the authorities to provide more milk for the baby, but bureaucracy has gotten in the way.
Zakaria’s birth certificate was issued by Daesh officials in Mosul. Khazer camp organisers had accepted it at first, when the family moved in. Yet the document has become an ongoing source of confusion.
“Every time we go to (the camp) organisers to ask for more milk powder for the baby, they ask us for proper documentation,” an exhausted Mohammad exclaimed. “Whatever papers we had for Zakaria, we have already turned these in. What more do they want from us?”
It rained at the camp the day before reporters arrived at the site, which is an hour’s drive from Mosul. The ground had turned to slush. Moving around the camp had become very difficult.
The situation was worse inside many of the 6,000 tents found there. Large families share one tent each. They cook and eat inside the tents, and the absence of proper waste disposal meant garbage would pile up inside, until organisers came around to remove it.
“We have been overwhelmed,” said Badr al Din Nazmadi, the head of the Khazer camp. He said the camp had reached maximum capacity and there was no space left to take in more people. But more have continued to arrive.
“If more people leave Mosul, we are looking at a humanitarian disaster,” he said. “We are praying the international community does its part to help us with the internally displaced.”
Iraqi forces had initially asked residents in Mosul not to leave their homes, warning that it could potentially create a humanitarian crisis. That crisis has become a reality at the Khazer camp as Iraqi forces have been unable to control Daesh attacks. Violence in Mosul has spread, even to areas which were thought to have been liberated by Iraqi special forces. Daesh suicide attacks have erupted behind enemy lines in eastern Mosul, where the number of dead has only risen.
‘’Winter is around the corner and we have no gas,’’ Mohammad said. He had to borrow extra blankets from camp organisers to line his tent.