We Are Not Slaughterers: An Iraqi Village Rejects Islamic Militants

Nov 4, 2014
Originally published on November 5, 2014 11:38 am

The only way for civilians to get to the town of Dhuluiya is by boat across the river Tigris, since the so-called Islamic State blew up the main bridge here and tribesmen battling them commandeered the other.

Steering through long reeds, we pull into a little dirt harbor. Here, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, is the home of a branch of the Jubbour tribe. They're a big Sunni group in this agricultural area and they want to tell me how they've halted the advance of the Islamic State.

At first glance, the village seems lush. We bump along backstreets — "It's safer," they tell me — past houses with gardens full of pomegranate trees.

It's really beautiful here, I say. But the men giving me a ride into town reply that it's not all that beautiful right now, actually. We're about two miles from the front line. The Islamic State fires maybe a dozen mortars a day at the town, and at the little boats chugging across the river.

The nearest hospital is behind that front line, so they've converted a school into a makeshift clinic. It's there that I meet senior men from the Jubbour tribe.

They crowd into a disused classroom and tell me how the Islamic State blazed down from the north in mid-June. The villages north of here are Sunni, where many feel oppressed by the Shiite-led government. Some allied with the Sunni militants. Others fought, and fell.

Until those militants reached Dhuluiya.

"Since that time, the fighting started, and everyone from third-grade students to sheikhs took part in it," says Barzan Ahmad, a Jubbouri and a university professor. "Everyone raised their weapons."

He says that after the fighting had been going on for two days, the militants proposed negotiations. So a delegation from the Jubbour tribe went to meet an Islamic State leader.

He ordered the Jubbouri to join them and to kill 30 members of their tribe — army officers and doctors — as punishment for working with the Shiite-dominated government of former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, which many Sunnis despised.

"They said, 'We came to liberate you from this injustice and oppression caused by Maliki's rule,' " says Ahmed.

The Jubbouris were outraged. Sheikh Mawloud Awad Hassoun says the tribe believes in peaceful co-existence. A lot of them are educated — engineers and lawyers.

"We don't see ourselves as slaughterers," he says. So the tribe declined the offer to join the extremists and began fighting against them again.

In the chaotic hallway of this makeshift hospital, I meet Ahmed Issa, who joined the fight against the extremists — and lost his leg.

"They're criminals," he says. "They're killers. If they enter your house, they are going to kill you."

The war here is often deeply sectarian. The Shiite-led government recruits Shiite militias. Sunni tribes join with the Islamic State. But here, Shiite fighters from Balad, a town across the river, came to help out.

"We've become more than brothers," says Issa. "What hurts them, hurts us, and what hurts us, hurts them."

Fighting together, they pushed the militants back. It helped when Iraqi army helicopters hit some Islamic State positions. But they say they need more help from the government.

Muaffak Kamel Ali stopped working with an electricity company to fight.

"We want military support — we are under pressure here," he says. "They are shelling us from there and advancing toward us."

This is something you hear across the country. Over to the west in Anbar, members of a Sunni tribe called Albu Nimr, who have been fighting the Islamic State, say they've lost at least 200 men to the extremists in recent days. They, too, beg the government for weapons.

As I say goodbye, the Jubbouris tell me they're hoping for a meeting soon with Iraq's prime minister. That's key, because U.S. officials have said they want the Iraqi government to take the lead in supplying weapons and supplies before American advisers help the tribes.

But they hope the help comes soon. Over the weekend, 250 Jubbouris were captured by the Islamic State.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If you follow the news from Syria and Iraq it can seem as if the so-called Islamic State is unstoppable. The Sunni group, also known as ISIS, has also gotten support from some local Sunnis frustrated with their governments. But some Sunnis are standing up to ISIS. Recently, NPR's Alice Fordham travelled to an Iraqi town under ISIS attack, and she found one tribe that's resisting the extremists and appealing for help.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: The only way for civilians to get to the town of Dhuluiya is by boat across the river Tigris, since ISIS blew up the main bridge here. Steering through long reeds, we pull into a little harbor. I've come to this town, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, to meet the Jubbour tribe, a big Sunni group in this agricultural area who've halted the advance of the Islamic State. At first glance, it seems lush here.

So we're bumping through the streets of Dhuluiya, through houses with back gardens full of pomegranate trees. It's really beautiful here, I say. And they say it's not all that beautiful right now, actually.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: In fact, we are about two miles from the front line. ISIS fires maybe a dozen mortars a day at the town. At a school converted to a hospital, I meet senior men from the Jubbour tribe. They tell me how ISIS blazed down from the North in mid-June. The villages north of here are Sunni, where many feel oppressed by the Shiite-led government. Some allied with the Sunni militants. Others fought and fell, 'till those extremists reached Dhuluiya.

BARZAN AHMAD: (Through translator) Since that time, the fighting started, and everyone from third-grade students to sheiks took part in it. Everyone raised their weapons.

FORDHAM: This is Barzan Ahmad, a Jubbouri and a university professor.

AHMAD: (Through translator) After the fighting had been going on for two days, they proposed having negotiations between ISIS and the sheiks here.

FORDHAM: So, a delegation from the Jubbour tribe went to meet an Islamic State leader, who ordered them to join ISIS and kill 30 members of the tribe - army officers, doctors - as punishment for working with the Shiite-dominated government of former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, which many Sunnis despised.

AHMAD: (Through translator). They said, we've come to liberate you from this injustice and oppression caused by Maliki's rule.

FORDHAM: The sheiks were outraged.

SHEIK MAWLOUD AWAD HASSOUN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Sheik Mawloud Awad Hassoun says the tribe believes in peaceful coexistence. A lot of them are educated - engineers and lawyers. We don't see ourselves as slaughterers, he says. So the tribe declined ISIS's offer to join them and began fighting against them again.

In the chaotic hallway of this makeshift hospital, I meet Ahmed Issa, who joined the fight against the extremists and lost his leg.

AHMED ISSA: (Through translator). They're criminals. They're killers. If they enter your house, they're going to kill you.

FORDHAM: And even though Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq are generally at each other's throats, here, Shiite fighters from a town across the river came to help out.

ISSA: (Through translator). We've become more than brothers. What hurts them hurts us, and what hurts us hurts them.

FORDHAM: Fighting together, they pushed the militants back. It helps when Iraqi army helicopters hit some Islamic State positions. But they say they need more help from the government. Muaffak Kamel Ali stopped working with an electricity company to fight.

MUAFFAK KAMEL ALI: (Through translator). We want military support. We are under pressure here. They are shelling us from there and advancing toward us. So we need shields, military backing so we can defeat them ourselves.

FORDHAM: And this is something you hear across the country. Over to the west in Anbar, Sunni tribes fighting the Islamic State say they've lost 200 men to the extremists in recent days. They, too, beg the government for weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Thank you.

As I say goodbye, the Jubbouris tell me they're hoping for a meeting soon with Iraq's prime minister. And that's key because the U.S. wants the government here to take the lead before it helps the tribes. But the help has to come soon. Over the weekend, 250 Jubbouris were captured by ISIS. Alice Fordham, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.