People volunteer their time in Mosul. Photo: Faza'a FB
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Often, they are the first to reach liberated areas in Mosul with water and food, and this way Faza’a has in the past three months earned quite a reputation in the city.
“We target the areas that nobody can reach. That is why Faza’a is so well known and popular in Mosul,” said Mustafa Khateeb, one of the initiators of this movement of young volunteers.
The 21-year-old fled from Iraq’s second city when the Islamic group ISIS took it over in June 2014, and soon after was helping his townsfolk in the camps with food, water and blankets.
But the real work started when the battle for Mosul began last October, he says. “Young men of Mosul felt they had to do something for their city. It started with three of us, and we decided to help IDPs in camps, liberated villages and neighbourhoods.”
During their first campaign in liberated areas on the Eastbank, Faza’a (Arabic for people who shoulder missions which are not quite their responsibilities) brought food, milk, water and simple medicine like aspirin.
Now Faza’a has five hundred registered members, and another thousand that did not register their names, and works from Erbil in coordination with Peshmerga troops and the Iraqi anti-terror brigade.
Their activities have grown too, and now different teams specialize in aid, or even in digging wells, or supply blankets, winter clothes, cookers and kitchen equipment in the camps.
On their Facebook page, videos show youths distributing drinking water and food packages to thankful Moslawi civilians.
“We have two kinds of volunteers: outside and inside Mosul. Locals help organizing, and decide how to distribute,” Khateeb explained. “Our cars are now recognized and greeted everywhere.”
Inside the city, the group reached people who had nothing, “only leaves of the trees, no water, no food. Any time we get demands for aid, we will bring it in 24 hours,” Khateeb said.
Even during military operations, no aid workers or volunteers were let in, Faza’a was able to manage.
“That is because of our good relations with the army, and because we coordinate with the provincial council,” said Khateeb, “We managed to get the approval of the anti-terror brigade, on condition that it was at our own risk.”
In the second phase of the battle, for West Mosul, they will do the same.
“They will let us get into areas that are secured,” Khateeb said, “also sometimes in the East side we entered at the same time as the army.”
He admits that it has been dangerous, because ISIS, or Daesh, as it is called locally.
“The first time we got in, we were targeted by snipers and shelling by Daesh,” Khateeb said. “They managed to delay us, but we reached our destination.”
Other attacks lead to casualties. “We lost four young people of our local teams, and seventeen got wounded. After that attack, we returned there three times, to challenge Daesh and to show that we really help. We are willing to sacrifice our lives for it.”
The danger did not stop volunteers from coming forward at all: “The number increased after we were targeted for the first time.” Even women and girls are part of the teams, “but we do not let them go to dangerous places.”
Faza’a does not have offices, but gets the use of a space when they need it. That’s typical for how the group works: by bringing demands and requests together.
The same way they help Moslawi IDPs in Erbil and Duhok who need medical aid: they find Moslawi medical doctors and specialists who volunteer, and private hospitals that offer space.
Money for their work comes from Moslawis who are outside the city, some of them rich, some just donate 15,000 dinars (just over 10 dollars) or supply the group with second hand clothes.
“Our role is to be between those with money, and those who need help,” Khateeb said.
Medical services have been an important part of their work, Khateeb said, in a city where most of those services have been destroyed.
“We managed to open a centre for blood donations on the left bank, cleaned it and made it ready, with some volunteer doctors,” he said. “We made a clinic in the north liberated sector, supplied it with medicine to deal with non-urgent cases.”
He stressed that Faza’a had managed this all on its own, “no international organisations helped us, only volunteers and donations.”
The group now has a lot of followers, who do not directly work with the initiators, Khateeb explained.
“We stimulate others to take initiatives, as there is a big pressure on us,” he said. “Like the teams cleaning up the city, we support them but they work alone.”
He said that many more young people want to volunteer, “but we have limited resources as the donations are getting less. Any funder has a limit, they are mostly IDPs themselves.”
Until recently the people behind Faza’a were not known.
“From the first day, we did not let any volunteer post photos of the distribution, to prevent opportunists from using Faza’a,” Khateeb said.
For that reason, Faza’a has no political affiliations.
“We will not be abused by anyone who wants attention for himself,” Khateeb said.