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The cost of freeing Iraq and Syria from the grip of Isis is still being counted
By Ivor Prickett
Thousands of people across Iraq and Syria are still unaccounted for following the war against Isis. Some were killed by the terrorists and are buried in mass graves; some perished in the fighting designed to liberate them.
In Mosul alone, it is estimated that more than 10,000 civilians were killed during the operation to liberate the ancient city, home to Iraq’s most prestigious university and with a pre-war population of more than two million.
Several months after the city had been declared free from Isis rule, civil defence workers had the grim job of digging bodies from the ruins of the Old City. My story had begun in 2016, just after the operation for Mosul had started in late October. Initially I found myself documenting the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding as thousands of people fled the city, but even after the war ended I tried to record the savage toll on families caught in its midst.
Despite the horror of the months of fighting in Mosul and the countless dead, it was impossible not to be affected by the signs of life as people returned to the city. In May 2018, I found myself sitting in a bar, photographing people drinking alcohol and laughing. It was easy to forget what had passed here not so long before. Young people were coming back to attend classes at the University of Mosul, which had been badly damaged during the fighting. Some of the first students to graduate since the defeat of Isis celebrated wildly at a reception hall. With their extended families in attendance, each graduate was paraded through the party under a shower of exploding glitter and booming Iraqi pop music. It gave me hope for the future of this majestic city.
People fleeing the fighting in Shora, near Mosul, are stopped at an Iraqi army checkpoint on the northern outskirts of Qayara
Oil fires, lit by retreating Isis militants, burn near an Iraqi army checkpoint on the outskirts of Qayara, 75 kilometres south of Mosul
Some flee the recently liberated Sukar neighbourhood, while others return across a broken bridge that connects to the rest of east Mosul
Civilians who had stayed in west Mosul after their area had been liberated beg for food at an aid distribution in the Mamun neighbourhood of the city
Zaid Khalid Mohammed, 16, is buried beside his father Khalid Mohammed Qassim, 42, in a Mosul suburb. They had been killed earlier that day by an Isis bomb
An Iraqi special forces soldier carries a rocket launcher to the roof of a house on the frontline in the Shuhada neighbourhood of west Mosul
The body of an Isis fighter lies abandoned in the Shuhada neighbourhood on the morning after fierce clashes between Iraqi special forces and militants
Iraqi special forces survey the aftermath of an Isis suicide car bomb that reached their lines in the Andalus neighbourhood of east Mosul
A man staggers from an armoured vehicle at a first aid station in east Mosul holding his younger brother who was killed moments earlier in an Isis mortar attack
Iraqi men who had fled Isis-controlled areas in Hawija wait to be questioned about by Kurdish security personnel at a base near Kirkuk
A father carries his five year-old son through the Mamun neighbourhood of west Mosul. The boy was reportedly shot by an Isis sniper
Civilians fleeing heavy clashes between Iraqi special forces and Isis militants in west Mosul walk past an Isis fighter killed in an airstrike the night before
An Isis car bomb that had failed to explode near Iraqi special forces in the Shuhada neighbourhood of west Mosul is destroyed by a coalition airstrike
A man calls out to relatives moments after discovering his father has been killed by an Isis suicide car bomb in the Jadidah neighbourhood of west Mosul
Civilians, fleeing fighting nearby, run across a junction under fire from an Isis sniper in the Rifai neighbourhood of west Mosul
An Iraqi special forces soldier fires on Isis militants from a defensive position on the edge of the Rifai neighbourhood of west Mosul
A woman screams in horror after her son was killed in an Isis mortar attack in the Jadidah neighbourhood of west Mosul
A boy who was carried out of the last Isis-controlled area in the Old City by a man suspected of being a militant is cared for by Iraqi special forces
Shell-shocked women and children are transported to a displaced persons camp after fleeing the last area under Isis control in Mosul’s Old City
Iraqi special forces soldiers carry away an injured Isis fighter who had surrendered in the Maydan area of Mosul’s Old City
Men wait to be questioned at a screening centre near Kirkuk in Kurdish-controlled Iraq after fleeing the last remaining Isis-held areas in the province of Hawija
Men arrested on suspicion of being Isis members peer from their cell in a jail just outside Mosul
A Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) soldier walks through the ruined streets of east Raqqa, near the end of the battle to retake the city from Isis
Mohammed Sheko, 25, feeds his SDF comrade Salah Al Raqawi, 18, at a hospital in Kurdish-controlled Syria. They were injured fighting Isis in Raqqa
SDF comrades and family members mourn during the burial of Adhem Sheko, who was killed fighting in Raqqa, at the Martyrs Cemetery in Kobane
A man suspected of being an Isis militant is found hiding in rubble in the Old City and is handed over to the security forces
Fouad Mohammed Sadi weeps as he buries his wife, daughter and two brothers. They were killed months before in air and artillery strikes during the fight for Mosul
Troops detain a man identified as being a member of Isis while his children huddle where they had been sleeping in the village of Badush, northwest of Mosul
Suspected Isis members detained by Mosul Swat forces in a series of late-night raids are unloaded at the unit’s base in east Mosul
Municipal garbage collectors prepare to bury bodies of suspected Isis members, retrieved from the Old City of Mosul, in a mass grave
Volunteers collect unclaimed bodies, most of them suspected Isis members, from the ruins of the Old City district where the militants made their last stand
A young boy who had been collecting scrap metal cools off with a dip in the River Tigris. Beyond him is the destroyed Old City in west Mosul
Mohammed Haj Ali is busy in the run-up to Eid, cutting the hair of some of the few residents who had returned to his neighbourhood in Raqqa
The first students to graduate from Mosul University since the liberation of the city from Isis in July, last year, celebrate in east Mosul
Eissa al-Ali and his family return to their shattered neighbourhood in Raqqa. The battle with Isis destroyed 80 per cent of the city buildings and killed thousands
Nadhira Rasoul looks on as Iraqi Civil Defence workers dig out the bodies of her sister and niece in the Old City of Mosul. They were killed by an airstrike in June 2017
Young men take selfies atop the ruins of Nebi Yunus Shrine in east Mosul. Nebi Yunus is believed by Christians and Muslims alike to be the tomb of the Prophet Jonah.
Most recently Ivor Prickett’s work has focused on the fight to defeat Isis in Iraq and Syria and its aftermath. His work earned him the first prize in the General News Stories category of the 2018 World Press Photo awards and he was also selected as a finalist in the Breaking News Photography category of the Pulitzer Prizes. The entire body of his work, titled End of the Caliphate, is due to be released as a book by the German publisher Steidl.
Prickett’s work has also been recognised with a number of prestigious awards including The World Press Photo, The Overseas Press Club Awards, Pictures of the Year International, Foam Talent, The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize and The Ian Parry Scholarship. His pictures have been exhibited widely at institutions such as Foam Gallery Amsterdam and The National Portrait Gallery London.
All photographs by Ivor Prickett/New York Times/Panos Pictures