Alice Fordham

At a rehabilitation center in Turkey, just over the border from Syria, Bassam Farouh raises and lowers leg weights, wincing and holding onto a rail.

The gray-haired Farouh is a Syrian rebel fighter who battled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army for years, until he was wounded in a Russian airstrike on his hometown across the border two months ago.

"It wasn't a war at first, it was a revolution against the system," he says. "We were trying to take a stance against the system and that led us here."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On a cold desert morning full of birdsong and smokers' coughs, the head of Iraq's special forces is holding court in the master bedroom of a commandeered family home, perched on the edge of a rumpled pink bed and lighting his first cigarettes of the day.

"In Ramadi city, and Ramadi's suburbs, ISIS is broken, they no longer exist," declares Maj. Gen. Fadhil Barwari, blowing smoke over curlicued bedroom furniture.

In the cinderblock Iraqi villages clustered around Mount Sinjar's rippling, craggy slopes, the mood is euphoric.

Fighters who retook the city late last week from ISIS — with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes — race along cratered roads, cheering children crammed in the back of their trucks, flags cartoon-bright in the pure, intense winter sunshine.

Kurdish forces raised their flag Friday as they advanced into the center of the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, facing little resistance from Islamic State fighters who have held it for 15 months. Kurdish officials called it a liberation.

But for the Yazidi minority who were driven out of Sinjar by ISIS in an orgy of sectarian violence, the victory may not be the prelude to a homecoming.

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Palestinians sit in a line of idling cars that stretches downhill, waiting to be allowed out of their East Jerusalem neighborhood via a road partially sealed off by Israeli police.

Around the corner, Palestinian driver Waleed Mattar has stopped the school bus at a row of new, sharp-edged concrete cubes blocking his usual route. The kids now have a long walk home.

This is a neighborhood in East Jerusalem called Jabel Mukaber, with a population of more than 20,000 and a median age of just 18.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

To talk about how the Russian air campaign is affecting what's happening with rebel and regime fighters on the battlefield, NPR's Alice Fordham is here in the studio. Hey there, Alice.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

The Baghdad City of Peace Carnival started four years ago, with a young woman named Noof Assi.

"We started talking to people about a celebration for peace day in Baghdad," Assi says. She's referring to International Peace Day, which is September 21 — and which hadn't been celebrated in the war-beleaguered Iraqi capital.

"Everybody was taking it as a joke and never taking us seriously," she says, "because, like, in Baghdad? Celebrating peace?"

At first it seems lively outside on the weekend in Baghdad — the lights are bright in open-air cafes, music streams from beribboned cars in a wedding party and at Ali Hussein's juice stand, decorated with plastic bananas, they're squeezing oranges on old brass presses.

But even as Hussein offers me a sharp, fresh juice, he's downcast. When I ask about the subject on everyone's mind here — the migrant flood into Europe — he laughs. "We were just talking about this!" he says. Several of his friends just passed by to say farewell.

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