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Anti-ISIS Music in Iraq

[Screenshot from Tagat wel Ma Tagat (2014), taken from YouTube.] [Screenshot from Tagat wel Ma Tagat (2014), taken from YouTube.]

 Soon after the withdrawal of most of the US military from Iraq, bequeathing a weak and corrupt clientele government in Baghdad, ISIS took over several Iraqi small towns before occupying Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city in June 2014. The Iraqi army was already suffering from a lack of proper training and was infested with corruption. Young, mostly poor, men started mobilizing to volunteer for the army and al-Hashd al-Sha’abi, or Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a Shi'a-dominated militia, to liberate Iraqi cities that fell to ISIS. These mobilization efforts essentially began in response to a fatwa by the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the highest Shi'a cleric.

A whole new set of cultural concepts was born out of this mobilization, including music and songs. Anti-ISIS songs became especially popular after ISIS executed some 1700 young soldier trainees in the city of Tikrit northwest of Baghdad, and increased with the news and footage of Yazidi families trapped in the Sinjar mountains at the edges of Mosul, recounting horror stories of the massacres ISIS carried against them. The fight against ISIS intensified and videos of captured ISIS members started surfacing on social media elevating hope.

Tagat wel Ma Tagat by Salah el Bahar

I am the defender

I am the exemplar

I cut my enemy’s tongue

I am the Iraqi

I inherited my courage

From Al-Abbas*

The universe might shake

But nothing shakes my roots

I only bow to my mother

*The son of Imam Ali and a prominent figure in Shiite mythology. He was known for his courage, dedication and loyalty.

One might wonder if these songs were part of a propaganda to encourage young men to join the fight. However, the essence might rest in the age of social media, since these men did not really need any propaganda to build their enthusiasm. Their friends and family members, who joined the fight against ISIS, were actually live-streaming directly from the battlefields. These songs even became the music the youth chose to dance to during birthdays and weddings, and their popularity led to a competition amongst singers to produce more songs often using similar beats. Technology and western instruments were usually used to produce these songs, albeit almost entirely imbued with sectarian, as well as tribal, symbolisms. Both, sectarian and tribal affiliations grew and flourished following the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of the country. Their nefarious roots, however, can be traced to the 1990s while Iraqi society began to disintegrate under the economic sanctions, and as Saddam’s regime continued to fan sectarian and tribal flames to keep the people divided and subjugated. These symbolisms can be noticed not only in the beats and movement of the performers, but also in their attire and lyrics, which express masculinity, anger and even violence. In other words, a fairly logical outcome to the myriad forms of brutality emanating from nearly four decades of political oppression, wars, debilitating sanctions, invasion, occupation and ensuing social violence that several generations had to endure.

Jeenak Ib Haya by Noor al-Zain and Ghazwan al-Fahad

            We have your back tonight 

            You are the savior

            Your words are bullets

            Whoever wants to fight you

            We will teach him a lesson

            Whoever wants to fights us

            We will teach him a lesson 

Al-Sahib by Noor al-Zain and Ahmed Jawad

I will tell you about my friend

If he called for me

I would shut down the world for him

I would walk to death if he asked

I would do it for his eyes

I will go with him, and my eyes will not shut

            I will not let his enemy get up

            I am a wolf and I bite to kill

Yallaweena by Saif Nabeel

I am the strength

I am the truth

I inhale death

Where is he who does not like life?

I will take it out of him

Let him show himself

The one who wants to fight us  

El Izeez bAhmed Jawad

            I will turn my ribs into guns

            My eyes will not sleep

            You are my brother

            And brotherhood is the truth

            Even in death

            My bones will come walking to you

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