The Mash


By Kasey Carlson, Whitney Young
Rand Jassar, Niles West
Elani Kaufnan, Lincoln Park
Siqi Liu, Naperville Central


Think about how you live your day-to-day life. You go to school and work, you hang out with your friends at night and enjoy all of the spoils of being a teen.

Now think about how you would feel if that all changed overnight.

As a militant group now called the Islamic State continues its monthlong string of violence across Iraq and Syria in a bid to carve out its own country, many residents, including young people, are afraid of the danger that lies outside their front doors.

“I think anyone who can leave should leave because it’s getting really dangerous here,” 16-year-old Baghdad resident Ibrahim Al Azawy told The Mash. “My parents are thinking about moving now. Everybody is scared of doing anything—even the everyday activities.”

The violence stems from an age-old clash between the Sunni and Shiite sects of the Islamic faith. But the Islamic State, a former branch of Al-Qaida that until recently was called the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, took the fight in a forceful direction to put Sunni Muslims in a more powerful position in that region of the Middle East.

Since February, the Islamic State has taken over many northern and western cities in Iraq, including Fallujah and Mosul, the country’s second largest city. Sleeper cells have helped cause uprisings within Baghdad. Human Rights Watch confirmed the mass murder of nearly 200 Iraqi soldiers, though the Islamic State claimed to have executed hundreds more.

While a lot of the animosity leading up to the conflict comes from the struggle between the two sects as well as the feeling of a lack of Sunni representation in Iraqi government, much of the efforts by the Islamic State are based around the concept of creating a caliphate, or an Islamic state that runs under the strict, religious rules of Sharia law.

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the creation of such a caliphate last week, according to Reuters, and named himself the caliph, or leader of the state. This was a game-changer not only for people in Iraq, but Muslims everywhere, as the caliph is the traditional leader of the Muslim world.

But most Muslims won’t recognize al-Baghdadi as their leader, according to Zainab Al-Suwaij, co-founder and executive director of the American Islamic Congress. The AIC promotes solving conflicts in the Middle East through nonviolent means and encourages American Muslims to be ambassadors to the rest of the Muslim world. Al-Suwaij added that al-Baghdadi already faces opposition from some Islamic leaders.

“The religious hierarchy have called on the young men to fight, so they are voluntarily signing up for the military, because they feel like they have an obligation to their country and to keep their family safe,” said Al-Suwaij, who spent last week in the southern part of Iraq, away from the conflict.

Al Suwaij also said that the power and wealth of Iraq is as much of a factor in the conflict as religion is. “These are former Saddam Husseins; they are personnel who want back the power in Iraq,” she said.

Although militants haven’t attacked Baghdad, fear is starting to spread around Iraq and the capital, according to residents.

Childhood friends Mustafa Khalid and Abdulla Hasan, who live in Baghdad, said that turning 18 this year made them realize they’ve missed out on a lot of things teens are doing in other countries.

“Staying out late or going on road trips with my friends,” said Khalid, a resident of the Al Athamia neighborhood, told The Mash. “Even something as silly as going to a country club and playing soccer with my friends.”

Hasan, who lives in the Al Waziria neighborhood, said that he and friends are bored, the only place safe enough to meet is a coffee shop. “But even that had bombs near it a while back and no one was able to go,” he said.

According to Khalid, Islamic State militants aren’t the only ones creating an unsafe environment.

“There’s a group that was meant to help the (Iraqi) government fight off the bad guys,” he said. “But they’re making a mess out of the situation. They kidnap guys–they go inside people’s homes and take their sons. It happened to three families who live at the end of my block. A taxi driver got stopped in the middle of the street and (was) kidnapped while my mom was riding with him.”

Khalid, Al Azawy and Hasan agree on one thing: If you leave the house to go to school or meet a few friends, you never know if you’re going to come back home.

—By Rand Jassar, Niles West and Kasey Carlson, Whitney Young


AFP PHOTO / HO /US Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security

AFP PHOTO / HO /US Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: The leader of the Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. He also claims to be a direct descendant of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.


Getty Images

Getty Images

Nouri al-Malaki: The prime minister of Iraq. Al-Malaki is coming under fire for the uprisings due to his strict and borderline authoritarian regime, as well as his use of security forces who’ve arrested or killed Sunni protesters.


Getty Images

Getty Images

Ayman Al-Zawahiri: The current leader of al-Qaida. He has openly rejected ISIS and declared them to be too brutal.


Getty Images

Getty Images

Bashar Assad: The president of Syria. He has lost control of parts of northern Syria and the Iraqi-Syrian border.


“Although I was born and raised in the United States and have never actually visited Iraq, I do have extended family there and my heart yearns for the wellbeing of the country that has my roots and heritage. It breaks my heart to see the chaos and turmoil, but I give my support and prayers to the Iraqi people and hope … ISIS and other terrorist groups diminish and allow the Middle East to heal and eventually prosper.”
Fatima Alsharifi, a Naperville Central rising senior of Iraqi descent

“ISIS is such a religious organization. It points to the rise of fundamentalist religion in our world. That’s the great threat to any secular democracy.”
Andrew Biddison, a Naperville Central rising senior
“To be frank, the entire Middle Eastern region is in a state of instability, and Iraq is no exception. For years, Iraq has been suffering with corrupt dictators, continuous wars and internal issues, making it a vulnerable nation.”
Fatima Alsharifi

“I think the way that the U.S. sees itself and its international image as a protector of freedom means that we can’t not intervene on some level. … But I don’t think we should do boots on the ground. … With intelligence provided by nations that are working with us, like Iran, we can play a better role from the backseat.”
—Andrew Biddison

“If Iran were to get involved on the side of the Iraqi government, it would widen the sectarian divide. Foreign Shia forces on Iraqi soil would be proud to prove to Sunnis that they are threatened.”
—Matthew Rappe, a senior at Jones

“It really makes me flummoxed to hear about Iraq since U.S. military forces left just four years ago, and now we are facing a potential dangerous situation that could not only impact the people of Iraq and Syria, but could also have far-reaching impacts in other parts of the Middle East or even the world. It gives me the inkling of, `Oh gosh, this is really serious’ in the back of my head.”
—Kris Trivedi, a recent Niles West graduate




632 A.D.: The death of Prophet Muhammad leads to a split into two major Muslim factions: Sunnis and Shiites. The Sunnis believe that the community of Muslims should decide Muhammad’s successor, while the Shiites believe Islamic leaders should be descendants of Muhammad. Today, 10 to 15 percent of Muslims worldwide are Shiite, but they make up between 60 and 65 percent of Iraq’s population; Sunnis make up between 32 and 37 percent, according to Central Intelligence Agency data.

July 16, 1979:
Saddam Hussein establishes a Sunni-led regime controlled by the Ba’ath Party.

April 9, 2003:
The U.S. invasion of Iraq topples Hussein’s regime, disbands the Ba’ath Party and removed government officials from their positions.

October 2004:
The State Department designated Jama’at al-Tawhid wa’al-Jihad (the Monotheism and Jihad Group) as a “foreign terrorist organization,” blamed the group for several bombings throughout Iraq and noted its ties to al-Qaida. The group later becomes known as al-Qaida in Iraq.

May 20, 2006:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s Shia-dominated government is established as the successor to the Iraqi Transitional Government.

Oct. 13, 2006:
Al-Qaida in Iraq announces the establishment of the Sunni-led Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS (also referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL), which claimed authority over key cities such as Baghdad, Anbar and Diyala. The later break ties with al-Qaida.

December 2011:
The last U.S. troops leave Iraq. Insurgent groups immediately begin to take advantage of the power vacuum through violence and bombings.

July 2013:
ISIS conducts a mass prison break in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, freeing more than 500 prisoners, many of them al-Qaida operatives, according to U.S. officials.

After authorities expel Sunnis who protest what they claim is second-class treatment by Maliki’s Shia-led government, ISIS responds by capturing Fallujah in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province.

Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri severes ties with ISIS in an official statement on jihadist websites.

June 7, 2014:
ISIS briefly takes over the University of Anbar in the city of Ramadi and holds 1,300 students and staff hostage, but then desert the campus before security forces arrive, according to Aljazeera.

June 10, 2014:
ISIS overruns parts of the country’s second largest city, Mosul, causing 500,000 people to flee from the city.

June 15, 2014:
ISIS captures the city of Tal Afar and later tweets images of what the militants claim are the execution of 1,700 Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered.


$1.7 trillion
The cost of the Iraq war, as of June, for the U.S. Iraqi war veterans are owed another $490 billion, according to a study reported by Reuters.


Percentage of Iraq’s oil largest oil refinery in Baiji that is now under ISIS control, according to an official inside the refinery.


The estimated number of people who have fled Mosul since ISIS took over the city.


The estimated number of ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq, according to U.S. officials. One security consulting firm estimates that as many as 2,000 fighters have come from Europe.

Sources: Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, Reuters, International Organization for Migration,, The Soufan Group



Even if someone is trying to inform themselves about the Iraq crisis by reading news stories, they may encounter some unfamiliar terms that make it a little difficult to understand what everyone’s talking about. We broke down some of the words.

Caliphate: Coming from the Arabic word for “succession,” a caliphate is an Islamic state that’s run by a descendant or “successor” of the Prophet Muhammad and functions under Sharia law, or the law of Islam. The goal of forming a caliphate–a cause shared by several Islamic militant groups worldwide–lies at the heart of several political/religious conflicts such as the one in Iraq.

An insurgent is a rebel or a revolutionary. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—the militant group known as ISIS—is made up of what’s considered to be insurgents.

As in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which is used alternately with ISIS. The Levant is the geographical and cultural region that lies between the Mediterranean Sea and Iraq, also referred to as the Eastern Mediterranean.

No, it doesn’t mean someone in the military. To be “militant,” according to, is to be combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent or confrontational methods.

Iraq’s second largest city in Iraq behind Baghdad. It has been overrun by members of ISIS.

To be “sectarian” is to be divided into sects or separate groups. As the fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims increase, the sectarian divide becomes larger.


In a recent video posted online by the organization, ISIS declares the end of the Sykes-Picot treaty, a secret agreement between Great Britain and France that divided the Middle East into separate sections following World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The borders of modern day countries mimic the divides created by the Sykes-Picot, and the video explains how ISIS is tearing down those borders. The video ends with an ISIS member mocking President Barack Obama, asking if “he packed enough diapers” for his soldiers.

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Young Iraqi woman uprooted, outcast but surviving


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About The Mash

The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free every other Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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