Originally from Basrah, Dr Nawrast Sabeh studied geology in Mosul for her Masters and PhD between 2003 and 2013. Over the span of 10 years Nawrast had to cut through the country multiple journeys alongside the river Tigris between the two cities. While she was living the violence in Basrah, she was thinking of the simultaneous forms of trauma inflicted in Mosul as both cities were undergoing massive urban, social and political change.
In 2003 I was in the middle of my Masters degree in the Department of Geology in Mosul University but at the start of the war I returned back home to Basrah. The looting happening simultaneously across the country meant that at the same time Basrah was being looted, my room in the students’ accommodation in Mosul was being looted. I had a sack in the geology department at the university full of sample rocks from Sinjar mountain, these were lost in the chaos. Six months after the fall of Baghdad, I returned back to Mosul to complete my studies.
I completed my Masters in 2005 from Mosul and returned back to Basrah, started working in the University of Basrah and in 2008 returned back to Mosul to start my PhD and completed it in 2013, a year before Daesh attacked Mosul. During the time sectarianism was at its peak (the beginning of 2007), I remember one day I was heading from Mosul down to Baghdad and I had my family on the phone several times warning me about Baghdad, on that day, there were 35 car bombs exploded across Baghdad. In 2013 when I returned to Basrah from Mosul, I witnessed a massive change in the city. Local residential areas all turned into multi-storey commercial buildings. Even the original traditional houses of Basrah are endangered now because all people want to do is turn land into multi-storey commercial buildings. If I want to describe Basrah now, I can only think of one word that represents it, alienation. I feel it is alien to its old self and to Basrawis too.