- Title: First signs of normality in the lives of Iraqi children
- Date: 9th December 2016
- Summary: HASSAN SHAM CAMP, NEAR ERBIL, IRAQ (DECEMBER 8, 2016) (REUTERS) GROUP OF CHILDREN DANCING TWO GIRLS CLAPPING AND SINGING CHILDREN SINGING
- Embargoed: 24th December 2016 14:21
- Keywords: Mosul Iraqi children daily life Islamic State
- Location: KOKJALI , EAST MOSUL, KAZER AND HASSAN SHAM CAMPS, NEAR ERBIL, IRAQ
- City: KOKJALI , EAST MOSUL, KAZER AND HASSAN SHAM CAMPS, NEAR ERBIL, IRAQ
- Country: Iraq
- Reuters ID: LVA0025C5XJ5Z
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:UNICEF set up tent schools in the Kurdish city of Erbil to help children play sports, dance and catch up with their education after years of living under Islamic State control.
Judo coach Ali Mahmoud said he feared his career as coach would end when the militants banned judo as "un-Islamic" after they seized Mosul city in June 2014.
When Islamic State stormed Mahmoud's gym to turn it into an arms training camp for their fighters, all he could save was his black belt.
The fighters arrived one night at his Karama club in the Samah district while the 39-year old was training for a tournament, seized the gym and stopped him when he tried to collect his membership card of the Judo Federation, Nineveh Branch.
"They (Islamic State) told me you were training the apostates. They accused me of training the soldiers therefore, they prevented me from training," he said.
Mahmoud has since fled Mosul to a Kokjali suburb when Iraqi forces launched a campaign in October to retake the city. He said that Islamic State stopped him from going to the gym.
"They even prevented me from practising any kind of sports. Therefore, I opened a gym for me on the roof of my house to practice sport alone," he said.
To keep in shape Mahmoud tried exercising parks at night but gave up after he was stopped by a patrol of the Hisbah, the militants' religious police enforcing their extreme rules such as flogging people caught smoking.
Mahmoud said he had won a national championship in his age group in 2012. He trains his son at home.
"I told him to continue practising. I have two sons and two daughters; Fatimat al-Zahra and Amina and they were also judo champions in the province when they were children," he said.
Mahmoud feared for his life even when training at home alone.
"If they had known, they would have slaughtered me immediately. It was even hard to me to jog," he said.
His story could not be verified as Samah remains a battle zone but several residents said Mosul sports clubs closed under Islamic State which seized such facilities to give young people weapons training.
In Mosul most children stopped activities such as street football as parents, fearing trouble, kept them indoors.
There were some limited exercises at schools run by Islamic State by many parents pulled them out worried they would get brainwashed.
Walid Ahmed, a teacher, said there was no real teaching and that Islamic State trained the children in weapons.
"They preach killing and they brainwash children, so we were afraid and we removed them (children) from school. They say they are Muslims, but they are not," he said.
Ahmed's daughter Marwa said that Islamic State sometimes gave bullets to the schoolchildren.
"They taught us that a bullet plus a bullet equals two bullets. They used to train us (in weapons) in the school yard. Daesh sometimes gave girls bullets and told them to fire," she said.
To help children catch up with their education, UNICEF opened schools at the displaced camps in the Kurdish city of Erbil, northern Iraq.
UNICEF Chief of Erbil Field Office, Maulid Warfa said that there is place for smaller exercises like singing, dancing and artwork.
As part of activities to help children, UNICEF also operates Child-Friendly Spaces, where children can find respite through play, learning and psycho-social support to help them rehabilitate and overcome the ordeal they lived through.
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