By Joe Snell | December 2021 | Photos and videos courtesy of Shlama Foundation
A new women and children’s clothing shop in Batnaya, a village in the Nineveh Governorate of northern Iraq, sits among heaps of rubble and Islamic State (IS) graffiti. The business is part of a slow trend to revive the area, which was largely destroyed by IS and subsequent fighting by US-led forces.
Sandra Yacoub is among the many Assyrian Chaldean Syriac residents that fled Batnaya in August 2014 as IS overran the area. She first traveled to Simele and eventually landed in Beirut. As she realized her refugee case had stalled, she returned home to find her village in ruins. Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) estimates that about 1% of the village remained standing.
Determined to live in her homeland, and with retail experience she picked up in Lebanon, Yacoub decided to open a clothing store. Her project was supported by Shlama Foundation, a nonprofit based in Erbil. In total, the shop cost $5,400 to build.
But Yacoub now faces a new hurdle of finding customers. Once home to over 5,000 people, today the village houses about 500, largely because it still sits in rubble. Those that have returned are resilient. The first man to come back two years ago lived in the wreckage of his old home among stray dogs and a caved-in ceiling.
The money is simply not there to remove the debris, Noor Matti, a Shlama Foundation Board Member, told the Journal. And work to repair houses and restore electricity and water is regularly delayed because of a lack of resources and booby traps laid by the extremist group.
USAID last year provided two power generators and helped clear some of the rubble to get the village back on its feet. The debris of seventy homes were cleared at a cost of about $3,000 each; but 250 homes still need to be removed.
There are reminders everywhere of IS. Buildings and debris lay covered in graffiti. And a prison for IS family members is nearby. It was supposed to be relocated to Mosul city, but the process has yet to be finalized.
“The IS scars are still there, and they’re the most visible in Batnaya,” Matti said.
Where is Batnaya?
Batnaya is in the Tel Kef District in the Nineveh Plains, about 15 miles north of Mosul and south of Alqosh.