Before This Conflict, We Were All Like Brothers

Voices of war #2

Before This Conflict, We Were All Like Brothers Before This Conflict, We Were All Like Brothers
As part of War Is Boring’s field coverage of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, we are publishing a series of Q&As by photojournalist... Before This Conflict, We Were All Like Brothers

As part of War Is Boring’s field coverage of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, we are publishing a series of Q&As by photojournalist Matt Cetti-Roberts.

These are Cetti-Roberts’ conversations with soldiers, fighters and politicians — and everyday people on the streets. This is the second installment in the ongoing series.


Shakr Mahmood Maha is a Sunni Arab from Samarrah, Iraq.

When Islamic State militants began fighting with the Iraqi army near his home last summer, he sent his family to live in Iraqi Kurdistan. Maha stayed behind to tend to his home and fish-trading business.

But the violence eventually drove him away, too.

When we met him and his family over the summer, they were living in the Kurdish town of Pirumagrun. “The people in the town are really kind, they have both welcomed and helped us,” Maha said.

He told us about the difficulties of traveling on roads blocked by soldiers, why he avoids the Iraqi army — and why he hopes the country will stay united.

What follows are Maha’s comments.

On who to fear

We are afraid of the the Maliki [Iraqi] army, because they are near Samarrah and ISIS is attacking them. When the [Iraqi army] is near, ISIS always attacks them.

We left everything behind, even the fish.

On Sunni-Shia conflict

We don’t have problems with them.

But the Sunni asked for rights because they are oppressed. Because of this, step by step, they started to prepare protests in the Sunni provinces. Even then, they couldn’t get any rights.

After this, the ISIS situation started.

On making a living

None of us are working at the moment. If the Asayesh [Kurdish security agency] says we are allowed to work, we will. We have a big problem with money.

Everything else is simple, except that we have no water cooler. Everything else is OK. Food was brought to us by the townspeople.

Shakr Mahmood Maha. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

On a unified Iraq

My dream is that the fighting will stop and that the Kurds and the Arabs can all live together like brothers. I want to go home. I want all of the Iraqis to be together.

I don’t think partitioning Iraq is a good idea.

Before this conflict, we were all like brothers — Islam with Christianity, Sunni with Shia, Kurd and Arab. We want Kurdistan to be part of Iraq, but a region within the country.

We want to keep Iraq together. You [addressing our Kurdish interpreter] want Kurdistan to become an independent country. We want you to stay part of Iraq.

On refugees

If there’s fighting, people go. If not, then they come back. The people are coming and going. Also, the roads we used to leave aren’t paved — and most people don’t know about these roads.

If the people want to take the normal roads … they are controlled by the army, and they will not let people pass. Why do they stop people from going? The people who have stayed there, they are like human shields.

The two sides — the army and the [Islamic State] fighters — should open the roads and let people go wherever they want.

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