Iraq, 2016-2017

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. Sara is one of them. She is 28 years old and left with her husband and sons. Her phone messages tell the story of her exodus.

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.

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