Jalawla: The struggle to rebuild one Iraqi town – The Independent on Sunday

Here is a story for the Independent on Sunday with photographer Hawre Khalid. We went to Jalawla in Diyala province and looked at the struggle to rebuild the town a year after it was retaken from Isis by the peshmerga and Shia militia. The power struggles and failure to reconstruct the town shows the problems Iraq as a whole faces, as the war with Isis continues and more areas will need to be rebuilt.

Looking for ISIS suspects in Kirkuk – The Independent on Sunday

Story here for the Independent on Sunday with photos by Hawre Khalid. I went on multiple raids with the Kirkuk police and watched them arrest ISIS suspects; just one of the counter terror strategies Iraqi forces are using in the fight against ISIS. While the police need to keep the city safe, human rights groups are concerned about the treatment of detainees in Iraq, and lawyers in Kirkuk say it is often dangerous to take on the cases of prisoners detained under the anti-terror law.

Yazidi Revenge Attacks in Formerly ISIS Held Sinjar – The Daily Beast

Story here on revenge attacks in Sinjar after it was seized from Isis by Kurdish forces. Sinjar was a mixed town but now local Yazidis say they won’t accept the return of their former Muslim neighbors who stayed and lived under ISIS control. This dispute led to two gun fights and the death of three Muslim shepherds and three Yazidi peshmegra fighters. I went back to Sinjar to find out more here.

Photograph by the wonderful Ali Arkady,

Sinjar in the aftermath and UK strikes in Syria

A picture of a scrubbed out Isis sign by the road in Sinjar, a town perched at the base of the mountain of the same name. I can imagine how this mixed town by Iraq’s north western border with Syria looked in more peaceful times. It was home to Yazidis, Christians, Sunnis, Shias, Arabs, Kurds – a kind of coexistence now unlikely, a painful truth of the victory over Isis.

This pattern of distrust and suspicion between former neighbours is an unavoidable side effect of the battle against Isis and worth remembering as the UK debates bombing Syria. Bombs can hold a line and push back Isis with  fighters on the ground, but they also render towns and cities unlivable and don’t solve the long term political and social problems that led to the growth of Isis.

The question is not should we bomb Syria (we are already bombing in Iraq, but the amounts of strikes are small compared to the US) but what will that achieve, is there a better way and what is the long term strategy. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in coalition air strikes so far, according to monitoring groups, which is a recruiting tool for Isis, so if we are going to strike Syria we should be clear who we are fighting for and against because bombs are not a long term solution.

Many Yazidis still don’t feel safe enough to return to Sinjar even though it has been retaken. After bombing Isis to pieces there still remains questions about long term security as well as infrastructure and welfare. If towns are left abandoned, destroyed and unpeopled law and order breaks down, as Christine van den Toorn, Director of the Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Sulaimaniyah told me a few weeks ago, they become hot spots for smuggling, kidnap and organised crime. The very thing we were trying to get rid of by pushing out Isis.

Strikes need to be used in conjunction with long term political and social plans, cash and organisation for rebuilding afterwards to bring people home and ensure law and order, otherwise they can do harm to the very people they are supposed to save.