She arrived in the office helmet and flag jacket in hand. From there she set off to Mosul with her favorite cameraman Younis Mustafa and a driver. The team of three knew their destination and their set goal, but they had no idea how the day might end. They passed through checkpoints, bombed-out towns, and rubble. She was looking for a mass grave where militants of the Islamic State had thrown hundreds of bodies.
Shifa Gardi was born on a cold winter day in 1987 at the Zewa refugee camp in Eastern Kurdistan. Her parents like everybody else in the camp were Peshmerga families who had fled for their lives. The extended Gardi family lives in the south and north Kurdistan. They have been part of the Kurdish struggle for freedom for generations. In 1991, when Shifa was three and after the Kurdish region of Iraq had freed itself from Saddam Hussein’s rule, her family left the refugee camp and returned home.
Shifa attended elementary school at Basrma where she was a quick-witted clever student with a ready smile. At middle school, she went to Harir where she got involved in student activities and became a member of the student union. Upon finishing high school she moved to Erbil and graduated from the computer department of Erbil Technical Institute. Soon after graduation, she was offered a job as an anchor at Zagros TV to the pride of her parents who saw her for the first time on TV. Some of their more traditional neighbors criticized her choice, but her parents stood by their daughter. In 2009 she joined a team of young journalists and led a daily program in the Badini dialect on Kurdistan Region’s parliamentary elections.
In 2012 began a new chapter in Shifa’s life. Rudaw Media Network was founded and she was one of the first applicants hired and trained as a professional anchor. A year later Shifa was the face of Rudaw TV on the day of its launch.
In addition to her news work, she continued her journalism studies at Salahaddin University in Erbil. In 2014 she graduated with a thesis on Rudaw’s election coverage and upon graduation, she was promoted to head of output at Rudaw, one of the most important positions at the network. She was responsible for all content and programming that went on air. Shifa met this challenging task with fervor. She helped her male and female colleagues become TV stars while making sure the television meets expectations and international standards.
With the launch of military operations to liberate Mosul from the grip of the Islamic State in the second half of 2016 Shifa embarked on covering this major event through a special program titled Focus Mosul. She invited experts, military strategists, and eye-witnesses to her show.
She dedicated her time to the success of this program through research, follow up interviews and fieldwork. Her program was soon a big hit and her trips to Mosul to investigate her stories won the hearts and approval of her audience.
That day in Mosul her team had a productive day of filming, but Shifa wasn’t happy. She hadn’t found the Kashafa mass grave. It wasn’t long before a group of Hashd al-Shaabi fighters turned up with information about the location of the pit. It was the site of one of the most horrific crimes of ISIS.
A Hashd al-Shaabi commander guided Shifa and her cameraman down a hill. Shifa was excited. She was already thinking of returning the next day with a guest, a witness, a survivor who could tell the story of the grave. The camera was rolling and Shifa was trying to close to the mass grave when the Hashd commander stepped on a bomb planted there by ISIS. A big bang and the entire place was enveloped in a ball of dust and smoke. The cameraman Younis was hit and fell on the ground. When he regained consciousness he called out Shifa’s name, but there was silence everywhere and his ears still rang from the blast. Shifa was dead. It was February 25, 2017.