The town of Jalawla, located within Iraq’s disputed territories, saw heavy fighting after a major Islamic State offensive in June 2014. Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi Shia militias forced the jihadis out of the town five months later.
But Jalawla remains under threat by Islamic State insurgents, who often sneak into the town at night setting bombs and traps. Today, it’s a restricted military zone—civilians may only enter to reclaim possessions they left behind while fleeing the fighting.
The Kurds have a shaky relationship with Shia militia who helped liberate Jalawla. The militia fighters occupy two bases inside the ethnically-mixed town, and have burned and looted several homes and businesses.
The following is a journey through Jalawla in photos, as security officers from the Kurdish Asayish intelligence agency patrol the streets, and returning residents pick through what’s left of their shattered belongings.
All photos copyright Matt Cetti-Roberts
Feral dogs sit by a Kurdish checkpoint on the edge of Jalawla as a sandstorm sets in.
Asayish officers cross over a bridge going into Jalawla.
A former railway bridge. The British built it in 1921, and Islamic State destroyed it in 2014.
Two residents leave Jalawla with possessions retrieved from their business. The Saraya Tali’a Al Khurasani, a Shia militia group with 80 men inside the town, have looted local homes and shops.
A crater marks the site of a suicide bombing against the Asayish station in Jalawla. The attack demolished the station, killing four officers and injuring many more.
The ruins of the Jalawla Asayish station.
Taha, the head of the Asayish in Jalawla, stands in the remnants of his office at the ruined station.
A bazaar lies empty in Jalawla. Shina militia fighters looted and burned businesses and shops after the liberation of the town.
Ali Sarhad, a Sunni Arab resident of Jalawla, stands outside his brother’s shop in Jalawla during a trip to retrieve everything they can from their business and their home. The Saraya Tali’a Al Khurasani, a Shia militia group, took any valuables they could find, including a server bank and all the computers.
Ali and his brother load up whatever possessions they can gather into a truck before Shia militiamen can loot them.
A Jalawla resident—at right—carries out security duties with an Asayish officer inside the town’s bazaar. He’s one of several residents taking part in a small protection force that tries to stop any further looting of homes and businesses in the town.
Graffiti left by a shop owner to protect his property from the Shia militia. It reads, ‘Please this belongs to Abu Fazil Al Abbas.’ Abbas was a famous Shia warrior.
A Shia militia flag flies from the top of a Sunni mosque.
A group of Asayish officers drives through the deserted Jalawla bazaar.
A burnt pickup truck, destroyed during the fighting for Jalawla.
Possessions, looted from empty homes by Shia militia fighters and recovered by the Kurdish Asayish, sit by the side of a road in Jalawla. The Asayish discovered which part of the town the goods were taken from. The Kurdish troops contacted the owners, who then received permission to enter Jalawla and retrieve their possessions.
Piled high with possessions, three residents of Jalawla leave the Iraqi town in a truck as they attempt to keep anything of value from being stolen by Shia militia fighters.
An Asayish officer guards a junction in the Iraqi town of Jalawla.