Meet the seven-year-old Iraqi YouTube star who went viral for his speech against Isis

Child fleeing militant-controlled area finds unexpected fame in his country for eloquent news interview 

Saturday 20 May 2017 23:16 BST
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Hassan Aldawash's family fled to safety after the US-backed operation to retake the city of Mosul from Isis began in October 2016
Hassan Aldawash's family fled to safety after the US-backed operation to retake the city of Mosul from Isis began in October 2016 (Bethan McKernan)

“I’ll say it again if you give me 1,000 dinars (66p),” Hassan Aldawash smiles mischievously.

His father laughs along. “He’s not actually joking. Everyone wants his picture or a video.”

Hassan, while very small for his age, looks and acts older than his seven years - but he’s had to grow up very quickly. Isis invaded his family's village in Nineveh province when he was just four, and they were forced to live under the extremists' rule for two and a half years.

They fled to an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp when the US-backed Iraqi coalition began an operation to remove Isis from nearby Mosul began in October last year, and the family of five has been living in a camp called Dibaga 2 ever since.

While life there is hard, and Hassan’s parents have very little income, the family enjoys the novelty of being the closest thing Dibaga has to celebrities.

News cameras and microphones were thrust in the faces of families arriving at the camp back in the autumn - the first wave of more than 600,000 people who have been displaced by the fighting to date.

Hassan, wearing an AC Milan shirt, didn’t hold back telling news crews how he felt seeing Isis driven back.

Hassan with his father and brothers in their home in Dibaga 2, south of Mosul. The family do not know how long they will have to stay in the IDP camp
Hassan with his father and brothers in their home in Dibaga 2, south of Mosul. The family do not know how long they will have to stay in the IDP camp (Bethan McKernan)

“I could not rest, I felt tortured by Isis,” he said, using a highly formal vocabulary which made him sound like an adult. “Kisses for [Iraqi Prime Minister Haider] al-Abadi!”

The interview delighted many across the country who lauded Hassan as possessing wit and wisdom beyond his years.

Clips quickly found their way onto YouTube, where various videos have notched up hundreds of thousands of shares between them - one autotuned song remix is currently on 12,000 views.

Since the original interview aired in October, visitors to Dibaga have sought the family out to meet the little boy in person. They take selfies, or their own videos with Hassan, asking him to repeat the words which made him famous.

Hassan poses for a photo at home in Dibaga 2
Hassan poses for a photo at home in Dibaga 2 (Bethan McKernan)

In person the little boy is more shy than his huge internet presence would suggest. “It is strange being noticed by people around here,” he said slowly.

In Dibaga Hassan has started school for the first time, and is getting to grips with reading and writing as eloquently as he speaks.

He doesn’t have plans to go into a TV career or seek out more public attention - “But it is good to make people laugh and be happy,” he adds. “Everyone should want to make other people happy.”

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