Ongoing story

Iraq, June 2016 and October-November 2016.

They walk in a single file, their faces covered with sand. “I am exhausted,” one elderly woman said, grasping her daughter’s arm. Minutes ago, trucks of the Iraqi army dropped dozens of Arab families fleeing territories south of Daesh-held Mosul. But before they may cross the frontline and enter the Kurdish region of Iraq, Peshmerga fighters screen them one by one, concerned Daesh militants could hide among them.

On the Makhmur front, such scenes have almost become routine as the Iraqi army heads north to try to reclaim the strategic Iraqi town of Qayyarah, in the desert south of Mosul. An operation that they hope will pave the way for the recapture of Mosul. But along the way, thousands more civilians are expected to flee the clashes. Mosul's displaced are going to Debaga who seems to be a a transit camp to nowhere. In June 2016, the UN Refugee Agency fears that up to 600.000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) could escape Mosul and its surroundings, resulting in the largest displacement of population this year.

On October 17, 2016, the operation to retake the last major stronghold of Daesh in Iraq has started with the first rays of sun. The forces face mortar fire and suicide attacks. Ambulance sirens can already be heard. In Qayyarah, although the city has now been liberated, chaos lasts: the sun is burning through a dark sky. Some civilians died from the effects of the gas of oil fires set by Daesh.

Meanwhile, young girls are training on Bashiqa frontline. Some of them, who look like children, are carrying cuddly toys. When asked if they are minors, the leader of their party, PAK, Hussein Yazdanpanah, a Stalin lookalike, responds with embarrassment: "This generation is like that, their faces do not show their true age."

These young soldiers are often put forward as valorous warriors by their party for their propaganda - an image enthusiastically forwarded by the media. They are illustrated in an entirely different reality. 

Far from the war staged for the media and its subsequent treatment of violence, the battle of Mosul is looming. Immersed in this conflict, PAK recruits feel that they are embodying this image of strong, independent woman who has been sold to them. However, Hussein Yazdanpanah perpetuates the patriarchal aspect that had caused them to flee their homes in Iran: instead of being at home to take care of household tasks, they fill sacks of earth to reinforce the lines that only men will cross. So what do these girls, who fight Daesh with AK-47s marked "Mama I love you", do in this war that does not even seem to be their own? Naim has long black tightly attached hair and a wise and reserved child's face. She said she is 18 but looks 13. Naim is a few kilometers from Mosul. She runs to a forgotten toy, a white plastic house with a coral roof - a childhood lost too early.

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