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Memories of Iraq before the violence

Zeena Rahman is a 30-year-old law associate who left Baghdad in 2003 and now lives in Virginia.

2014 was a turbulent year for Iraq. Already ravaged by decades of war, sectarian violence, and corruption, the country also endured the rapid rise and terrifying takeover of radical extremists across the North.

We recently talked to three Iraqis living in America about these events. They spoke of their childhoods in Iraq, the U.S. invasion and its aftermath, the sectarian fighting that followed, and this past year’s bloodshed by IS militants. They talked about the resilience of the Iraqi people and how they adapt. And they spoke of their dreams of someday returning to their homeland.

Taif Amer, 32, is a former translator for the U.S. military in Baghdad.

The world watched in horror last August, when Islamic State fighters captured several towns around Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, and forced an entire population of Yazidis to flee up a mountain, where they remained stranded and facing the threat of genocide for days. Then, in early October, militants waving the Islamic State flag advanced toward Iraq’s capital, ready to attack. Just days later, they came alarmingly close — to just within 15 miles of the Baghdad International Airport.

Since then, Islamic State fighters have engaged in mass and public executions, broadcasted brutal beheadings of Western journalists, destroyed cultural and religious heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, and committed acts of sexual violence and slavery against women, children, and minority sects.

The threat of the Islamic State has seemed to come in waves in recent months — periods of quiet punctured by news of another beheading, another mass execution, another recruitment video making its way through international airwaves.

Ahmad Dosky, 69, was born and raised in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Dohuk City.

Just yesterday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appealed for more help from the international community. The United States and coalition forces are not moving fast enough to deliver weapons or train Iraqi forces, he said, adding, “There is a lot of things being said … and very little on the ground.” Last week, Islamic State attacks left at least 23 people dead in the country’s northern and eastern regions — including several Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

You can watch interviews here with Zeena Rahman, a 30-year-old law associate who left Baghdad in 2003 and now lives in Virginia, helping bring Iraqi refugees to the U.S.; Taif Amer, 32, a former translator for the U.S. military in Baghdad and Ahmad Dosky, 69. Dosky was born and raised in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Dohuk City. He arrived in the U.S. in the 70s after fighting against the Iraqi government through the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and being forced into Iran as a refugee.

Video editing by Noreen Nasir. Joshua Barajas contributed to this report.