Aliyah Khalaf Saleh

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Aliyah Khalaf Saleh, known as Umm Qusay
Aliyah Khalaf Saleh.jpg
near Tikrit, Salah al-Din, Kingdom of Iraq
OccupationHumanitarian, teacher[citation needed]
Known forRescuing over 50 military cadets from ISIS
AwardsMedal of the State,
International Women of Courage Award

Aliyah Khalaf Saleh (born Umm Qusay circa 1956 Salah al-Din, Kingdom of Iraq) is a humanitarian, and widely acknowledged folk heroine of Iraq.


She was born near Tikrit to a Sunni family in 1956 in what was then the Kingdom of Iraq. Married young at 13, she never had the opportunity to attend school. She lost a husband, son and nephew to ISIS terrorism. In 2014, after the Camp Speicher massacre, she rescued over 50 Iraqi (Kurds, Shia Muslims, Yezidis and Christians) cadets behind the lines, and smuggled them to safety.[1][2] She gave women’s clothes to some of the young men and hid them in the women's quarters on her farm. Others dug holes in a forest. IS fighters were hunting for the recruits, so Alyah obtained university identity cards for some of them, giving them local names. She taught those who were Shia how to say their prayers like a Sunni to protect them from sectarian suspicions. Over five months, she smuggled them to safety in Kurdish-held Kirkuk, hiding them in trucks surrounded by female relatives. After her cover was blown, her entire family of 25 fled the ISIS, returning only after the group’s defeat.[3]


Aliyah Khalaf Saleh receives International Women of Courage Award in 2018

The highest Shi’a religious authorities bestowed on this Sunni woman the title of “Toa’a Al-‘Asr.” Toa’a today is used to describe women who place the wellbeing of others before themselves. In July 2015, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi presented her with Iraq’s Medal of the State. She won an International Women of Courage Award in 2018.[4][5] In 2019, Iraqi Culture Minister Abdul Amir al-Hamdani has unveiled a bronze statue of hers.[6]


  1. ^ Afp (24 March 2018). "Mother Courage: Iraqi woman stands out as a beacon of hope in post-IS scenario". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  2. ^ Morello, Carol (23 March 2018). "Melania Trump presents Women of Courage awards at State Department". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  3. ^ Afp (24 March 2018). "Mother Courage: Iraqi woman stands out as a beacon of hope in post-IS scenario". Retrieved 13 March 2019 – via
  4. ^ "Biographies of the Finalists for the 2018 International Women of Courage Awards". U.S. Department of State | Home Page. 1944-12-09. Archived from the original on 2018-03-23. Retrieved 2018-04-03.
  5. ^ "State Department honors International Women of Courage". UPI. 23 March 2018. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  6. ^

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