Hammam al-Alil, Iraq – Ask anyone in the northern Iraqi town of Hammam al-Alil where Mustafa Taei lives and they will direct visitors down increasingly narrow streets through the bazaar towards a vibrantly painted breeze-block house.
Outside, a mural depicts painted palm trees and Iraqi flags fluttering over a mosque and a church. Standing alongside are a winged Assyrian deity, the Ziggurat of Ur and the ancient Babylonian Ishtar Gate. They are symbols of Iraq’s cultural heritage and historic plurality. Taei, a resident of Hammam al-Alil, says he was briefly jailed by fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) who controlled the town until last November.
“Daesh beat me with sticks when they heard I was painting,” Taei says, beaming widely through broken glasses perched precariously on his nose. He has reason to smile: He is now free to paint openly again.