Among the hardest hit under ISIS rule in Iraq were children. Militants often exploited children’s youthful innocence to carry out attacks or indoctrinate them in the group’s harmful ideology. While for others, the brutal reign of ISIS in cities such as Tal Afar and Mosul have left many without parents, leaving them alone in IDP camps and orphanages.
According to official statistics, approximately 13,000 orphaned children are living across Iraq’s northern Nineveh Province. Amidst a lack of national and international support and capacity, many of these children are living in poor conditions, without education, and lacking essential day-to-day goods such as food and diapers.
In the government-run Zuhoor Orphanage, over 43 children under the age of 8 are looked after. But one of the caretakers says that many of the children are malnourished and continually sick, adding that the orphanage relies heavily on humanitarian organisations.
“We have many kids but we are extremely understaffed. We are here even on all holidays including Friday and Saturday,” said the caretaker. “The kids are always sick, when they bring them to us they were sick. So the situation keeps deteriorating.”
Among the other children who are suffering from the effects of ISIS rule is Mohammed, a young boy from Mosul. During the battle for the city, which concluded in July 2017, ISIS militants used Mohammed as bait, hoping to lure and kill the oncoming Iraqi soldiers.
When soldiers spotted Mohammed in an alleyway, they rushed to him and grabbed him, but were subsequently gunned down by the snipers. In the resulting exchange, three of the soldiers died.
But as Mohammed lay in the soldiers’ arms, a dog came and dragged the baby away, saving him. While Mohammed is too young to remember the episode, it is a reminder of the extent to which ISIS militants went to hold onto their so-called caliphate and exploit children for their own gain.