Luis Shabi nostalgically recalls his nine years of novitiate in Rome and a "fantastic road trip through Europe" before returning to Iraq in 1969. "Those were the good times," sighs the Chaldean Archbishop of Baghdad from a bunker in the heart of the Iraqi capital.
When 37-year-old Igor Urizar first happened upon the isolated mountain village of Penjwin, 300 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, he had a vision of this border-town -- nestled in the pristine, snow-capped mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan -- transformed into a haven for skiers.
At seven o’clock in the morning on Mar. 1, Kurdish militias took over the only operational oil refinery in Syria, located about 800 kilometres northwest of Damascus.
Armoured vehicles and thousands of soldiers masked in black balaclavas guard the entrance to the city of Mosul, 350 kilometres northwest of Baghdad. Arriving here gives one the unmistakable feeling of entering a territory that is still under occupation – only this time, the Iraqi Federal soldiers, not the U.S. military, play the role of the occupying army, locals tell IPS.
It was only seven in the morning when Mohamed Abdi spread out a rug a few metres away from an artillery crater, up in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq. This Iraqi Kurd from Suleimaniyah, 260 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, was ready to celebrate the Newroz – the Kurdish and Persian New Year – along with his family.
Driving into the city of Kirkuk, one is greeted by the view of a huge sea of grey concrete houses from which laundry has been hung out to dry in the wind and be blackened by smoke rising from the surrounding oil wells.
From full literacy declared in the seventies, Iraq is down to 40 percent literacy for women. From the first woman prime minister and the first woman judge in the Middle East in 1959, Iraq has slipped to a place where an abnormal number of widows struggle, and where child marriages are on the rise. Hanaa Edwar is putting up a fight to win Iraqi women their freedoms again.
Fighters in the Balochistan province of Pakistan will soon set up a common front to take on the Pakistani military in their fight for Baloch independence, a senior commander of the Balochistan Liberation Front tells IPS in an interview.
Over a yellowish map, Qehreman Meri draws an oblong surface along the Turkish-Syrian border. "We want an autonomous region with clearly defined boundaries," says this spokesman from Yeketi
(Unity), one of 15 Kurdish political parties in Syria.
"I want to learn how to read and write in my own language," says Manal, a young Kurd from Syria. Neither she nor any of Manal’s 30 classmates have ever been so close to achieving their goal.
"Of course I want to defect but I cannot give up my salary. How could I possibly feed my 11 children?" The war is putting every Syrian on the brink, including this policeman on the side of President Bashar Al Assad.
The smuggler wants 200 dollars but Jewan negotiates him down to 100. That’s still a lot for this 26-year-old Syrian Kurd, but he can hardly wait to cross the border to Syria from Iraq. It’s been three years since he last saw his family.
Untamed stone villages line up over imposing green valleys. In winter they are white with snow. The luckiest have a view to the deep blue sea. "It’s gorgeous, isn’t it," says Amzi from his yellow cab. "Nobody would say we’re living in an open-air prison."
"We’ve been building a lot of new walls lately," says Polisario Front commander Ahmed Salem as he drives his 4 X 4 across Tindouf in Western Algeria. But the newly introduced security measures may not be enough to ensure the survival of the Western Sahrawis.
The football teams are back in their refugee camps in Algeria, and no, FIFA has taken no note of this tournament. And the television cameras are all at the Euro cup.