It’s the news we dread waking up to: two of our friends and colleagues who’ve served on some of our aid missions in Mosul were killed by ISIS snipers.
They were pretty young, seemingly invincible. The booms and pops that sounded just a few blocks away from where they served may as well have been miles away, fireworks to celebrate a nearly-free Mosul. And how could the war reach them when they were there serving their people? They were just men, doing their part to make sure friends and neighbors had the food they needed after surviving ISIS. Yes, the best was yet to come. Bright futures were ahead.
These young men volunteered with us on food deliveries all over Mosul. They were with us when we were nearly killed in north Mosul, in a neighborhood called Bawiza. We sat curb-side with them. We shared meals and even a cigarette or two, to be polite. They served faithfully—flour and rice and cans of baby formula are heavy, especially by the thousands—despite the frustrated insults of hungry families, despite the onslaught of traumatized people, despite the grueling manual labor. These same young men also volunteered to hand out food for other organizations. Their loyalty wasn’t to any logo or organization. It was to Mosul and their people.
Recently, during a food delivery facilitated and paid for by locals (not one of ours) near the front lines in west Mosul and close to some of the most intense fighting in the country, an ISIS sniper took aim at these men.
No doubt, the sniper knew they weren’t soldiers. They wore what we wear: collared shirts, jeans, boots or tennis shoes. They would’ve been perfectly dressed for a walk through the mall or park, or to lounge around their father’s living room. They had no kevlar or helmets or guns, because they were there on a mission of peace, with arms full of food and confidence that they could help rebuild Mosul. Things would be better now.
According to our friends who were there, they died quickly. They died well. Emotions seep out, often unexpectedly: sadness at the loss, anger at lives stolen, hope that we might also die well, trust that their lives and work and sacrifice were not in vain. Right now, countless people are eating food that those men handed them.
They will not get much praise. Typically, western lives are valued more highly than Iraqi lives, and that is most obvious in the news coverage. If our Canadian or American staff had been mowed down by those bullets, you’d probably hear about it online somewhere, somehow, maybe even in the headlines. But these were anonymous Iraqis.
The world may hardly bat an eye at the death of our friends, but the loss of their smiles, and their strong backs on our deliveries will be felt.
As we look toward another delivery of food near where they died, our hearts hurt for their families. We lament their loss, and we wanted you to know: they were heroes.