Iraq: Children returning to school after ISIS

Following the liberation of large parts of Iraq in 2017, including Mosul, Tal Afar, Hawija and western Anbar, children are returning to their studies as schools reopen their doors.

Subjugated in some parts of the country for over three years, children were exploited by ISIS and indoctrinated into the group’s harmful ways. ISIS’ leadership viewed children as more malleable to its own worldview and uncorrupted by ‘un-Islamic’ concepts compared to most adults.

The indoctrination came in the form of both ideological and military training, ensuring that they would not only become soldiers, but adherent’s to the aims of the so-called caliphate.

Many children speak of the horrors living under ISIS rule, as well as witnessing public executions, stoning and beatings. “I was in the market. ISIS militants wanted to throw someone from the roof of the building onto the ground,” said one kid. “He asked them if he could pray. The man finished praying and drank some water, and then they threw him from the roof of the building to the ground. I went over to him and all his bones were broken.”

Stories like these are not uncommon to thousands of children across the region. In light of these traumatic experiences, the return to schools is not only important for children to retain a sense of normalcy and receive a proper education, but to remove the harmful traces left on the children by ISIS rule.

In many liberated areas of Iraq, infrastructure is still lacking, with many schools needing to be rebuilt or school equipment needing to be provided.

However, people across Iraq are filling the vacuum and providing Iraqi children with the materials they need to succeed. In Kut, southeast of Baghdad, a carpentry shop owner continues to provide chairs and table to schools in the province, while in Fallujah, women have come together to help rehabilitate schools and paint over the negative effects of the past.

All of these initiatives help contribute to a growing and increasingly flourishing civil society in Iraq, where local people are coming back together to restitch the fabric of their communities back together.