They Raised the Flag for Peace: Honoring Our Fallen Iraqi Colleagues

They were displaced by ISIS, yet they risked their lives to help others who were also displaced.

Khalil and Burhan, two of our friends and colleagues in Iraq, were killed a few days ago when a roadside bomb exploded near their hometown. These two men were not just coworkers; they were cousins.

They had followed in the footsteps of Khalil’s brother, Sufjan. He was one of the first to join us as we brought food and water to families up and down the Mosul corridor, while Iraqi forces pressed north toward the city of Mosul, liberating towns and villages from ISIS as they went.

The fighting was brutal. In some places like Shirqat—where Khalil and Burhan grew up—the bodies of slain ISIS fighters still lay in the streets when we arrived. In some cases, the fighting had not yet subsided.

Families in Shirqat after it was liberated from ISIS in late 2016

When the battle reached western Mosul last year, where the fighting was even more intense, Sufjan called on the people he trusted most—his brother Khalil and cousin Burhan—to join us in showing up for those caught in the crossfire.

At the time, you were opening medical centers across the city, even before it was fully liberated. Someone needed to protect these clinics and provide safe passage for those trying to reach them.

Khalil and Burhan put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of people they’d never even met.

Their deaths are a sobering reminder that while ISIS may have lost its strongholds in Iraq, they are not entirely defeated. They may no longer dominate the news, but they still pose a dire threat to the people of Iraq.

More than that, though, Khalil and Burhan’s deaths are a heartbreaking loss—for their families who endured so much even before this latest tragedy, and for all of Iraq.

Khalil and Burhan were not just aid workers. They were bridge builders. “They crossed the barrier of sectarianism,” said our friend and partner Hala al-Sarraf, who knew them both.

“They worked with people who are entirely different from them,” Hala said. “People who should be killing each other are working together.” Thanks to them.

Khalil and Burhan raised the flag for peace in Iraq.

We will not forget them or their families. We honor their sacrifice. We mourn with their loved ones. We will walk alongside Khalil and Burhan’s families as they grieve, and as they begin to put the pieces of their lives back together.

Khalil and Burhan—they were heroes.