Smothered by the Islamic State, an Iraqi teen dares to dream

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — The three women tensed as their taxi approached the checkpoint manned by Islamic State group fighters. Everyone in Mosul dreaded checkpoints; you could never predict what these gunmen might do in their fanatic drive to crush the slightest hint of “sin.” One of them peered at the girl in the back seat, Ferah.

The 14-year-old wore the required veil over her face, but she had forgotten to lower the flap that also hid her eyes. A fighter barked at her to close it. But Ferah was not wearing her gloves, which were also required. If she fixed her veil, they would see her bare hands, and things would only get worse.

She shrank in her seat, trying to disappear.

The gunmen exploded, screaming that they would take Ferah, her mom and her sister to the Hisba, the feared religious police who punished violators of IS’s orders. They pulled the driver out and questioned him. How do you know these women?

Ferah felt the gunmen looming outside her window — frightening, huge and muscular, with beards down to their chests. Her mother went pale. A simple drive to a friend’s house was spiraling into disaster.

And just as suddenly, it was over. Somehow, the driver talked the gunmen down.

Once safe at their friend’s house, Ferah broke down. She wasn’t just trembling, her entire body spasmed.

This was the new, nightmare world that the Iraqi teen had to live in.

Ferah had never even heard of the Islamic State before the militants took over. As the summer of 2014 began, her world had seemed wide open. She’d finished her first year at a new private school, the best in the city, which she’d loved. She’d made new friends. Her classes were in English, her favorite subject. She dreamed of one day becoming an interior designer.

But in June, IS militants overran Mosul. The city fell in a night of chaos.

Around midnight, the streets around Ferah’s home lit up with headlights. Neighbors with suitcases piled into cars, soldiers threw bags into trucks, screeching away as artillery and gunfire echoed. Across the city, a panicked exodus erupted. Ferah’s two eldest sisters, who were married and lived nearby, called to say they were fleeing to the nearby Kurdish zone. Her best friend from school messaged that her family was leaving to Turkey.

Ferah’s family stayed.

The next morning, she woke up to a world ruled by the militants, sneeringly referred to by their Arabic acronym, Daesh.

As days turned to weeks and weeks to months, Ferah no longer wanted to go outside. It was too dangerous….

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