After decades of conflict, Iraq has been left littered with unexploded booby-traps. The Mines Advisory Group has spent 25 years in the country working to destroy and clear some of the millions of pieces of deadly ordnance. These images show members of the organisation at work, and the people whose lives have been touched and transformed by their efforts.
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Inside the Debaga displacement camp soon after the start of the campaign to liberate Mosul, dishevelled families who had found refuge told a familiar story of hardship.
While a brutal urban conflict raged in Mosul, the Hawija pocket festered along with its 100,000 inhabitants.
Its ISIL occupiers were too weak to pose a serious attacking threat, while the Iraqi military was too busy finishing off the terror group in Mosul and allied Shiite militia groups were encroaching on the nearby town of Tel Afar. Cut off from the outside world, the humanitarian situation in Hawija was dire, testified by the steady trickle of civilians filtering through the frontlines.
Facing a string of defeats in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State group is being forced to retreat to the desert from which it emerged three years ago.
By the end of 2014, the group born in Iraq held one third of the oil-rich country and large swathes of territory in neighbouring Syria.
But today it has lost 90 percent of its territory in Iraq, including the city of Mosul, while in Syria a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters has captured over 60 percent of its one-time bastion of Raqa.
"I am looking for my son," says a woman dressed in black outside the high walls of the Iraqi court where those accused of membership of "Islamic State" (IS) are on trial. Her son was picked up eight months ago, together with the rest of their village, some 275 men in total. "Some were released, but he was not. But I know he is innocent."
Sariah Yahya tells DW that she searched for him everywhere. But her son Luay, a farmer with two children, is not listed in any of the informal prisons where Iraqi army units are holding their IS prisoners. Now she has come to check for his name at the court of investigation based in the Christian city of Qaraqosh. "No mother of a Daeshi would dare ask for her son," she points out as proof of his innocence, using the group's Arabic name.
Fighting in 50-degree desert heat is bad enough, but add choking exhaust fumes amid the confines of armoured vehicles, and no wonder the soldiers await their daily ice deliveries.
In Tal Abta south of Tal Afar, where Iraqi forces have been engaged in mopping up operations against diehard jihadists of the Islamic State group, a key force is engaged in a vital mission.
So-called Islamic State is fighting desperately to avoid destruction, after losing its stronghold in Mosul.
But what happens after IS leaves town?
The troubled Iraqi city of Falluja has painful lessons.
By more fully understanding the role of religion in violent extremism and adopting a broad-based and inclusive approach to engaging religious actors, policymakers and practitioners can better advance countering violent extremism objectives. In this report, a former senior policy adviser and a USIP senior specialist explore the nexus of religion and violent extremism.
When Islamic State (ISIS) launched its attack on Mosul in 2014, they were outnumbered by opposition forces by almost 40 to one – yet ISIS took the city. Now a group of scientists working on the frontline in Iraq have analysed what motivates such fighters in research they say could help combat extremists.
While predicting the will to fight has been described by the former US director of national intelligence James Clapper as “imponderable”, researchers say they have begun to unpick what leads members of groups including Isis to be prepared to die, let their family suffer or even commit torture, finding that the motivation lies in a very different area to traditional ideas of comradeship.
“We found that there were three factors behind whether people were willing to make these costly sacrifices,” said Scott Atran, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and the research institution Artis International.
Now that security forces have driven Islamic State from Mosul, money changer Ayman Younis is back in business, helping traders buy imports from Turkey.
It is just one of the signs that the economy in Iraq’s second-largest city is coming back to life after three years under the extremists, who stifled private business by controlling trade and restricting who could take part in it—and were known to execute independent money changers.
Many challenges lie ahead, from demining to rebuilding, and the overarching sentiment in the northern Iraqi business community is far from positive. Many business owners are putting off investment decisions as they wait for the bulk of reconstruction to begin.
The defeat of ISIS in the Iraqi city of Mosul and its increasingly tenuous grip on its capital in Raqqa, Syria, demonstrates that the group can, and will, be physically defeated. In early July Iraqi security forces reported that they had broken through ISIS’ last line of defenses in Mosul, leaving ISIS in control of a strip of land along the Tigris River measuring only an eighth of a mile. In desperation ISIS even allowed women into battle as a way to slow Coalition advances. Female militants reportedly fired upon Iraqi forces with their children at their sides as human shields, thus preventing the use of air strikes to hasten ISIS’ final push from the city. Although ISIS will likely maintain guerrilla warfare against the people of Mosul, it is no longer able to boast that it controls Iraq’s second-largest city.
ISIS’ problems are larger than its defeat in Mosul. ISIS has already lost more than two-thirds of the territory it once held in Iraq and almost half of its Syrian territory. While the exact timeline and cost for physically defeating ISIS remains unclear, it is reasonable to assume that ISIS will lose control of its “caliphate” during the next year.
ISIS itself is increasingly hemmed in and risks losing control over the remainder of its territory, even in strongholds like Raqqa, which it needs to maintain its claim as a caliphate. Despite the loss of much of its territory and thousands of its loyal fighters in the fighting, it has already begun transitioning to a guerrilla force in areas it once dominated. In May 2017, U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Daniel Coats testified that even after these recent setbacks, ISIS “will likely have enough resources and fighters to sustain insurgency operations and plan terrorists attacks in the region and internationally” for the foreseeable future.