“It’s time to come home” – It’s farewell to The Ocelot’s Man in Iraq columnist

Luke Coleman

Regular readers will know that I’ve been harking on about leaving Iraq for a couple of years. It’s not as simple as you’d think. 

I switched careers here, from English language teacher to journalist/ filmmaker. 

A cloud of uncertainty passed across the United Kingdom almost three years ago, and how that collective decision impacts my home country made me dither. I wanted to see ISIS defeated. Eventually though, I must delay no longer. Your man in Iraq is coming home.

The last eight years have been extraordinary. What was meant to be a six month CV-building lay over, likely good for an anecdote or two, morphed into a significant chunk of my life, professionally and personally.

I helped scores of students get their language to a level which has seen them study for masters and PhDs in UK institutions. 

I leapt, as I’ve wanted to my entire working life, into full time journalism: learning, bluffing, chancing and sweating my way through complicated events. 

I’ve worked with kids in Halabja and appreciated the city’s tragic recent history, and then travelled with Kurdish Peshmerga as they drove to diffuse a legacy chemical weapon in the same place. 

In August 2014 I sat in a newsroom as the ISIS extremists tore through areas in and around Sinjar. The information that day came through the commanders that left the Yazidis to their fate. It sickens me that I worked for a rag belonging to a political party that not only refuses to acknowledge its cowardice, but arrogantly claims responsibility for liberating Sinjar. I hope the subsequent reporting I did with Yazidis was respectful, ethical and helped to balance the scale, even though full redress is impossible.

I paraglided from one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world two months before ISIS took Mosul, the city I could see in the distance that day. And I did it again, five years and a day later, with the same pilot. 

I learned about Islam, Yazidism, Kakai, Baha’I, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Mandaeism and the other faiths that colour this country. 

Iraq is too often regarded from the outside as being only riven by the two sects of Islam, rather than a land which more often than not celebrates its diversity.

I learned never to listen to others without looking deeper, without taking time to try to comprehend.

I’ve fallen in love and in lust, I’ve made the dearest of friends. I’ve no doubt there are those pleased to see the back of me, but where possible I’ve tried not to be too much of a prick.

My ‘brother’ Kamaran remains missing, since his kidnap by ISIS five years ago. My hope has shrivelled to a kernel so small it can harden no more. It is now resolute and immovable – for as long as he is not found, I will hold out for him to return.

Arabic poetry and music often express the binary of love, the joy and the pain. Maybe deep in my heart there is a stanza or tune which will express my feelings for Iraq, and the Kurdistan region in particular, in time. 

I’m going to take time to walk and reflect when I land back in Stroud. 

I’m going to live my life on four wheels. I will continue to make films which celebrate unity and denigrate those that would divide us.

I may no longer be your man in Iraq. But I will be your man in a van.