Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Mosul Militants Attack Female Teachers

Education chiefs in northern city say they're determined to keep schools open, despite extremist threat.
By Sahar al-Haideri
A class of 40 students at a Mosul primary school sit quietly at their desks. The scene seems normal enough - but their anxious faces betray the terrible loss they recently suffered.



On September 20, the first day of the new school year, their teacher Kathwar took a taxi home after work. That was the last anyone saw of her. The next day a police patrol made a dreadful discovery: Kathwar’s mutilated body was stuffed into a plastic barrel near the school, her belly riddled with bullets, and her eyes gouged out.



Now the headmistress, Salma Ibrahim, fears for the lives of the 27 remaining teachers at her school and does not know how to protect them. “If I ask for a police patrol, it makes matters worse because the police are the main target for militants," she said.



Murder has long become a daily companion for the inhabitants of this northern city, home to many foreign and homegrown militants. And the targeting of female teachers has become the latest twist in the spiraling violence that has gripped the region.



Life for women is particularly hard in Mosul. They only go out veiled and never alone. Militants impose tight restrictions on all aspects of life. A general curfew starts at 9 pm, but the streets are deserted much earlier.



One day after Kathwar’s murder, two sisters from the western part of Mosul were killed. Fadhila and Aliye Ahmed, both in their 30s, also worked as primary school teachers. Aliye was engaged; Fadhila was married and had one child.



Mohammed Othman, 64, said he does not understand why his nieces were killed, "We are ordinary people. Nobody in our family works with the police or as a translator." Both the latter professions are frequently targeted by Islamic militants. “Allah will take revenge,” he declared.



Eyewitnesses said the women were gunned down by men with scarves over their faces, in front of the school.



The education and security authorities in the city find it difficult to safeguard teachers and students.



Esam Abid, acting director-general of the Nineveh education administration, told IWPR that crimes against teachers are increasing and that two headmasters were recently kidnapped. "What shall we do? Nothing is up to us," he said despairingly.



Even though women were the victims in most of the recent murder cases, he thinks all teachers are at risk. Nevertheless, he seems determined not to give in to the militants. "The education process will not halt in Mosul," he pledged.



Local security officials have urged the public to help them counter the extremist threat by being vigilant and reporting anything suspicious.



Colonel Karim al-Jiburi, a senior Nineveh policeman, said, "Mosul is not the only unstable province - and it is not possible to provide police escorts for every teacher."



Asked whether he knew how many teachers had been murdered to date, he would only say, "We don't disclose the number of victims because we don't want to depress the public."



Many people in Mosul believe the targeting of female teachers is part of a systematic attempt to create havoc in the city. Extremists have previously attacked other professionals, such as doctors and university lecturers, prompting many of them to flee.



Amira Fu'ad, a young woman from Mosul, lost her friend and neighbour Salwa, another teacher, in the recent wave of killings. She said Salwa, who had been engaged recently, “was happy with her fiancé, preparing her new house for the wedding. They kill teachers to frighten everyone".



"My father says he will die if anything bad happens to me - and has asked me to quit," said Hadil Qasim, a 24-year-old teacher. "Now my brother accompanies me to school every day, carrying a pistol. We all live in fear and anxiety."



Sahar Al-Haideri is an IWPR contributor in Mosul.

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