The scale of human suffering in Iraqi Kurdistan was harrowing. I arrived in Erbil, with writer Billy Briggs, to document the situation ahead of the sixth anniversary of the Battle for Mosul, which fell on 17 April 2017. A major offensive had been launched by Kurds and Iraqis – they came together with international support in an attempt to rout IS from Mosul.
Tens of thousands of civilians had fled Mosul and surrounding villages/ towns, after most of the infrastructure, including the hospitals, had been destroyed. At the Iraq/Kurdistan border refugees waited for buses to take them onwards to the safety of displacement camps in Kurdistan. Most had arrived on foot carrying what little they could, their past lives both a memory and a nightmare. The strain on Kurdish hospitals was immense as they tried to cope with the influx of patients. Nearly all the patients were from the empty hull of Mosul.
Aside from the human tragedy there was the destruction and desecration that ISIS wrought on all things sacred to people’s faith, including that of Christian, Muslim and Yazidi. Churches and temples were demolished, including the looting of graves. Kurdish troops, many who were local to the villages, helped drive ISIS from their villages and towns and remained to make certain the aggressors never came back. A few brave souls returned to their homes to try and pick up their lives in a vastly changed landscape.