Four years ago, the last time the BBC team visited Mosul it was controlled by the American army. “The team had to be embedded with the military,” journalist Yalda Hakim tells us over the phone. But the American army, the last of which left Iraq in 2011, is no longer stationed in Mosul. Eager to know how the city and its people have moved on, Hakim decided to fly there to see for herself.
While the 29-year-old, daughter of an Afghan immigrant to Australia, spent a week on the outskirts of the city, security reasons didn’t allow her to stay overnight in Mosul. “The situation is still tense. Militants had killed nine soldiers just a day before we arrived. I didn’t expect to feel as nervous about travelling within the city, but there was a checkpoint every 500 metres. Each time, the army would stop our car and check for anything suspicious. We maintained a low-profile so as not to draw too much attention,” she says, describing the condition in the city centre.
When the city’s governor Atheel al-Nujaifi invited her to visit him, Hakim and her team travelled in different cars. She wore a headscarf and used her iPhone to covertly film her journey. The Sunni governor, Hakim found, was surprisingly vocal about his disapproval of the Shia-dominated central government and their insistence on maintaining army control within Mosul.
The rest of Hakim’s week in Iraq was spent on the mountainside about 20 minutes away from Mosul, watching and interacting with members of the Falcon Aviation Club. Hakim’s documentary Our World: Iraq Ten Years On, focuses on four members of the club. Security reasons made it difficult for the team to follow the club members around with cameras. “We sent them handycams and asked them to film their daily lives over the span of a week. Their video diaries give us a fair idea of their jobs, the cafes they frequent, and their oasis in troubled times — the club house,” says Hakim.
Keen on restoring the club to its former glory, Captain Seba Yasin, an ex-military pilot, had been battling with the Iraqi army to regain control of the club house. “Saddam Hussein had ensured that the club had the best equipment in the world. In 2003, the US military destroyed the club, turning it into a military base. After the Americans left, the Iraqi Army took over. Now that Captain Seba has managed to get the club house back, his major obstacle remains a lack of funds,” reveals Hakim, who also interviewed Captain Seba’s 19-year-old son Yasin. The 200-member strong club still meets as often as they can, using whatever little equipment they have left.
The club includes 18 female members, two of whom agreed to be interviewed by Hakim. “One is a 42-year-old divorcee who is determined to have a positive outlook in life. She lives in Mosul with her parents and heads to the hills, where the club members meet to go paragliding, whenever she can,” says Hakim. “The other is a Christian, who lives on the outskirts of the city. Every day she drives to the university, where she teaches physical training.” Mosul was once known for its diverse cultures, with a population of 50,000 Christians, but it is no longer the same. Today, Christians in Mosul must travel to a neighbouring city to visit a church.
Hakim looks at Captain Seba’s nine-year-old son Yousuf as Mosul’s future. “The youngest and bravest member of the group, he insisted on paragliding.
And he managed a tandem jump. He wants to grow up to be a pilot. He truly reflects the potential that Mosul has and its hopes and dreams for a better future,” Hakim concludes.
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