Jalawla: Not Far from the Border

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A city in Iraq near the border of Iran, Jalawla, is threatened by ISIL, a terrorist group but not for a long time.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: Jalawla; a city in Iraq near the Iranian border; a city where the black flag of Daesh cast its ominous shadow over last summer. And now heaven only knows what awaits this city. Here Abu Maryam has come to look into the situation in a bid to save the city.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Unknown man: “Over there … Can you see the flag? Up to the mountain ...

You, just after the flag … Come here Kak Sabah”

Narration: On our way back to the headquarters, we pass by a village still vibrant with life. I ask Abu Maryam to have a short stop there. He’s afraid to the miss the meeting with the commanders at the headquarters but I’m sure he likes to talk to the villagers.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “What is this village called?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Resident: “Awsaj.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “And over there?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Resident: “Yes, the whole area you see is Awsaj.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “What about Jalawla? How does it look like?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Resident: “Shia and Sunni Muslims are living there together. They are the same. No difference. Sad to say, the enemy has made up these things, you know. This is Shia … That is Sunni …”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “Hasn’t Daesh come to this village?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Resident: “No, they haven’t been able to reach here.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “How come?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Resident: “They haven’t been able. Otherwise, they would have beheaded us by now. I swear to God, they would have killed us all.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “Tell us how far are we from Jalawla? Don’t you go there?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Resident: “No, not at all. They’ll behead us all. We’re not going there.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “Are you going to school at all?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Young boy, Local Resident: “It’s closed.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “Why?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Young boy, Local Resident: “For security reasons.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “So the school is closed. Work … Only farming …”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Resident: “No we’re not farming. There is no electricity.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “No electricity? Why? Why no electricity?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Resident: “The problem is from Jalawla.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Reporter: “Who has cut off the electricity?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Resident: “Daesh.”

Narration: Everyone is in the room; the Army officer, the militia leader and the peshmerga commander. They review the plan to liberate two cities of Jalawla and Sadia. Abu Maryam wants to brief them on the current situation in the region.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Peshmerga Commander: “This is the map of Jalawla. Let’s unfold the map to see it. This is the river in west Jalawla. This is the East; this is the north and this south. We’re going to move on from your left and proceed this way to cut off this public road that goes toward Sadiyah. The control of this area has been given to Kak Adnan so as they can go from Halvan or Owsaj toward Mohafi and Khazra on the right side of the road to capture the bridge, let the forces pass over it and take the region under control.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Look, as for this region, we have to liberate this area first to open a way …”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Peshmerga Commander: “Kak Adnan is supposed to come to this point; Khazra and other areas there.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Right, from where?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Peshmerga Commander: “From here toward Owsaj.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “It’s too much.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “It’s been decided.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Tell him: Do you like to go and see it practically?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “That’s good”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “When?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Right Now!”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “No problem! In half an hour, we go to the watchtower and examine the whole area.”

Narration: In the end, it was decided to go to the area so as the commanders themselves examine the battlefield.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Here is where Jalawla begins.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Look, this road …This road continues to the city.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Can you see the watchtower above which there is a flag? The road goes up to that white building …”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Up to that tank …”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “That tank?”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Seyyed Ali is going there.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “As for the other areas, three other people go there; you, Brigadier Muhammad …”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “We join them from behind the hill. He says, “We and Kak Adnan … Adnan comes from there.” We go up to that tank and you go from the watchtower towards the tank and Kak Mahmud and Brigadier Muhammad go from behind that hill and all the three men meet each other at the zero point.”

Narration: New things are on the way. The scene is set for the operation. New forces are arriving. These big weapons also have their own rules. They can’t wait to give Daesh a tough time.

Everything is a herald of a big event. Even the occupiers of Jalawla know about it. Perhaps they’ve had nightmares about such a day over the few months that have been ruling over this empty city. We trample Daesh under our boots … We are servants of the religion …

Now that the drums of war are being beaten, it’s of no significance who you are. The enemy’s at the gate and you have to do something before it’s too late.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Fighting in mountains is different from fighting in plains because in mountainous areas you have an uneven land and different geographical conditions. In addition, it’s easier for the enemy to hide itself in a mountainous area. Therefore, you cannot be able to do whatever you like.”

Narration: Many of these people have never taken arms before. Each of them was busy with their own lives. Among them you can find workers, bakers, mechanics, students, teachers and clerks. But a call from religious leaders was enough for all of them to leave their jobs and come here.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter: “I’m from Baghdad. I’ve come here to fight for God’s sake. Aren’t you afraid to be killed in this battle? In the Name of God, “Say: nothing can befall us except what God decrees.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter: “It’s time to show that we were sincere when we said we wished to be with Imam Husayn.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter: “We have many troops. We have DShKs and mortars and I vouchsafe this way.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “Kak Ayyoub, this is very important! This issue is vital.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Fighter: “Dear Haji!”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Haji: “Yes?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Fighter: “If you are going to replace Daesh’s flag with this one, I’m ready to replace it with all my heart and soul. If you allow us we’ll come head-first.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Haji: “We are at the disposal of the people. Whatever they say.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Fighter: “Here you are, Haji.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Fighter: “God willing, we’ll raise it in Jalawla and Sadia. Help is from Allah and victory is near. Now whether this “near” is tomorrow morning or else, Mr. Naghavi should say.”

Narration: The kindness of the sky and the smell of earth mixed with rain have brought us a fantastic calmness but it’s not a good time to fantasize. This is the lull before the storm. The storm we were waiting for is coming soon. The sky shouts, “Fire!,” and the cannons fire a volley of balls towards the dark night of Daesh.

As the sun rises, the operation begins from two sides. The armored divisions set off for Sadia, a city 8 kilometers away from Jalawla. At the same time, battalions proceed toward Jalawla. These simultaneous military operations aim to prevent Daesh militants from escaping from one of these two cities into the other one. The enemy will be taken by surprise from two sides. But the day has just dawned and there’s still a hard way before us. Armored cars backed with cannons and warplanes move towards Sadia. The first event happen.

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Torab’s conversation: “An unexpected explosion on the right side of the forces …Well done … Come on …”

Narration:One of the cars explodes in a booby trap bomb blast. The armored division stops; an act that can have catastrophic consequences.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Torab’s conversation: “Reza! Break up! Break up!

Go away from the road if you want to break up!

Roger Brigadier!

Go away from the road and toward the target! I mean be away from the road more than 300 meters.”

Narration: Abu Torab is the field commander of the operation in Sadia . He directs his forces from his stronghold.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abu Torab, Commander: “Apparently, they detonated it with a remote control, may be with a telephone. In other words, they have put the booby traps 200 to 300 meters away from the road. And that means wherever we go, there will be booby traps.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter’s voice: “Roger that, Reza. Move your forces. Forget about your back. Move on! Break up! More than that!”

Narration: Though the situation is not desirable in the front line, when Abu Torab talks with his own commander he doesn’t say anything disappointing.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Conversation of Abu Torab and other fighter: “Be on the alert … one one. Torab one one is talking to you.

Peace be upon you dear Torab.

Peace be upon you and God’s mercy.

How’s things? How’re you?

Thank God, we’re moving as planned. There is some problems and resistance but thank God we’re moving toward the target with success.

How far are you from the target?

About 1.5 to 2 kilometers.

Torab Torab … from Mostafa!

Roger Mostafa!

Kobra Base is behind us. We passed by Kobra Base … on your right.

Roger Abu Mostafa …

We passed by Kobra Base. Kobra is one kilometer behind us.

Well done!”

Narration: Abu Torab is not in the front line but his responses are so emotional as if he were over there fighting shoulder to shoulder with other soldiers.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Conversation of Abu Torab and other fighter: “Great, the forces are moving forward. This has happened to Kobra?”

Narration: The armored division passes by booby traps safe and sound. Things are improving. You can see that in the face of Abu Torab.

From this moment on, we have to break up into two groups of cameramen. One goes toward Sadia with the armored battalion; and I walk toward Jalawla along with Abu Maryam’s forces.

Here is the front line of Jalawla. The war is different here in this area. You cannot see any armored cars, cannons or warplanes here; here small bullets and light weapons decide the result of the battle. The terrorist forces are ready too. The way is more insecure than we thought. The fighters have been divided into smaller groups. It’s difficult and dangerous to pass by the hills under the fire of Daesh’s snipers.

Now, it’s my turn. I have to catch up with a group ahead of us. I don’t know what will happen. As I begin to run, the voice of a fighter I talked begins to echo in my mind. “Nothing will happen to us, unless determined by God.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Commander: “This is back up. Your head, Haji … duck down, Abu Maryam.

We can go.

This is my group left. They all have gone.”

Narration: We have taken refuge behind a small hill. The fire of the terrorist forces is heavy. Abu Maryam goes into the heart of the enemy.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter’s conversation: “My dear … Young man … Get up …

Come on young man …

Get up sniper … Come on …

20:39

Follow the commander!

Where’s Mostafa?”

Narration: The snipers have no mercy.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter’s conversation: “Slow down! This martyr is my dear. Don’t treat him that way!

My dear sacrificed himself for Imam Husayn.

He sacrificed himself for Imam Husayn. No problem.

It’s an honor for all of us to sacrifices ourselves for Imam Husayn.”

Narration: Abu Maryam has gone. We decide to join the group from another way. We don’t know where Abu Maryam is now. No one answers us on the other side of the line.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter: “Come on boys, take the machine guns. Let’s go.”

Narration: On our way, we cannot see the enemy snipers but something else happens. We have entered a mined area unwittingly.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter’s conversation: “Be careful, this spring up one meter and then goes off.

What?

This mine I mean.

This one, have a look.”

Narration: We can see Abu Maryam and his men. They’re near Jalawla but it seems something is happening there. Yes, they cannot move ahead. To film what is happening, I prefer to crane my camera rather than my neck. We don’t know what will happen to them down there. We set off to join the group. From a way that we think is beyond the reach of the enemy snipers.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter’s conversation: “Brothers, don’t be silent. Send peace upon Muhammad and his family.

Come … Come …

Come … Come … Come …

Come … Come on … Come on boys …

Come … Come …

Men, you have to get up.

Get up men!

Come on … Come on … Get up … Get up …

Brothers, they say to join them.

Be careful, don’t shoot the others.

The rest of the brothers are inside the houses.

Don’t enter the houses.”

Narration: We’ve reached Jalawla. But we all know that this is just the beginning. Who knows what awaits us inside the city?

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter’s conversation: “One to the left … One to the right …

That corner … That corner … Be careful …

Watch out!

Shall we go?

Come on … Go … Hurry up …

God bless you!

Quick … Come on … Come on …

What? Is anyone inside?

Or have anyone been inside?”

Narration: Abu Maryam and his men are happy to see the back of those snipers. They’re proceeding through the city from a different side. Again, seeing Abu Maryam makes me calm.

The name “Abu Maryam” is not like that of a seasoned military commander. On the contrary, it is a delicate lovely name; with a sense its owner embodies it. Abu Maryam has spent his life in war but during the few battles I’ve been with him, I’ve never seen him carrying a weapon. In the last operation in which the city of Balad was recaptured he had just an iron bar in his hand. And here, with this small wooden rod he had defeated the terrorist militants. I have no fears when I’m with Abu Maryam. He walks without fear while a rain of bullets is falling from the sky.

The fighters just reach the borders of Sadia as they hear the news of Jalawla being recaptured. The news boosts their morale. But there are always unexpected moments in the war.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fighter’s Voice: “The brothers are in the houses in Jalawla … From the riverside. God willing. Well Done”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Fighter’s voice: “A suicide armored car is moving furiously towards the fighters. The car took this way off the road but it didn’t go off. The driver jumped down the hummer and our men shot him and his body dropped here where his clothes are.

There were about 20 hummers here. If it got detonated, our forces would be killed. It was only God’s mercy that prevented it from happening.”

Narration: Terrorist militants use suicide attacks as their last option. This means that they’re losing their stronghold in Sadia. Now, the fighters enter the city in a more confidant way. For a few months, Daesh has been ruling over the empty city of Sadia. They had been acting in a way as if they would remain here for years. But the steadfast fighters shattered their dream.

This is what has remained from them. The fighters begin to purge the main streets in Jalawla. I don’t know whether I will come back to this city or not.

TIME CODE: 30:00_36:22

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Fighter’s conversation: “How far is it to the end of Jalawla? We have to go to the end, right?Here is almost the end of the city, these heights and over there.”

Narration: I can see the days when life will come back to these deadly streets. But as long as this black flag is waving over there we cannot rest easy. All the time, you feel you are in the crosshairs of the enemy sniper.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Fighter: “You were so lonely here half an hour ago, weren’t you?

Yes, I was.

We entered the city at around 10. In the first phase, we were about 25 people.

Congrats on your victory!

God willing, your sacrifices will be accepted by Imam Husayn.

You might have seen us from above.

No, I wasn’t there. He was. I was in Sadiyah.

Oh yes, you went to Sadia.

Maybe it was God’s mercy. If he came, he would be shot by snipers.

Some have been injured and one has fallen a martyr. We were cut off from the rest of the world. Neither the mobile phones nor the walki-talkies were working at that time. No one could hear us. We tossed them aside. It was kind of a blessing in disguise. We ourselves took the initiative. We got exhausted by the heights, valleys, mud, and water that was running from three sides. We had to move through water and mud and gathered the fighters from two sides and went up. Some of them were young with spirit of adventure and came along with us. We proceeded stage by stage. With every hill we reached behind, we took some rest and gave a speech to recharge their batteries. We gave about six speeches at that time for both groups. And God helped us to get them to the first houses in the city. But it was all God’s mercy. They were young and adventurous and followed us all the time.

And they came with us in a good way.

Watching the film I realized that you don’t carry a weapon. My weapon is my tongue. I incite others and as they proceed I go with them inside the houses with God’s help.”

Narration: Everyone who sees Abu Maryam, treats him with respect by kissing his forehead. I think the bullet will hit him in the forehead. I’d like to have a long interview with him one day. I like him to tell me from his childhood and adolescence to days he spent in war up to now before it’s too late.

Still on Screen: A few weeks later, Brigadier Hamid Taghavi fell a martyr in a military operation near Al-Askari Shrine.

   

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