Iraqi-Canadians fear for loved ones back home following attacks

Much of the Iraqi-Canadian community in Winnipeg is watching the news of Islamist militants over-running major Iraqi cities makes headlines.
The insurgency in Iraq is causing anxiety for Canadians with family ties to that country 2:17

Much of the Iraqi-Canadian community in Winnipeg is watching the news of Islamist militants over-running major Iraqi cities.

Hussain Mohamed hails from Babylon, Iraq, where his mother and all nine of his siblings still reside.

Through Facebook he usually keeps in touch with them daily, but for the past three days he has been unable to get a hold of them and fears for their well-being, praying for their safety.

Mohamed was jailed for 12 years during Saddam Hussein’s violent crackdown on Shia Muslims.

"I [was] crying that time, believe me. I [said] Allah give me that place. I pray,” he said.

Mohamed was freed and made it to Canada in the 1990s. He was away from his family but found solidarity with much of the Iraqi-Canadian community.

Mohammad Almaleki is part of that community. The business student at the University of Manitoba said he also can't reach his family in Baghdad.

"We don't know what’s going on right now, so we're kind of fearful, but hopeful at the same time,” Almaleki said.

Iraq has spiralled further into chaos as ISIS, a breakaway al-Qaeda group, has swept across the country, seizing cities including Tikrit and Mosul. 

Fear and guilt

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the attacks and said he is "gravely concerned" by the serious deterioration of the security situation in Iraq.

Almaleki rejects the idea that the conflict is just sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims, but calls the extreme actions of the militant group terrorism.

"I sincerely don't believe this is a Sunni vervus Shia situation. This is a terror organization versus the world situation,” he said.

Along with fear, he said he feels guilty when he talks to loved ones back home, who have been just trying to survive.

Almaleki said his grandfather has been diagnosed with cancer, but he and his family refuse to leave their home.

“There's a lot of guilt there because I'm so fortunate, I identify myself as Canadian, I'm so fortunate to live in a country where I know I have running water and heat and electricity and I can do an interview like this with you without fear for my life," he said.