Civilians forced to flee two Iraqi villages during an ISIS offensive returned to their homes months later to find ruined buildings and now must confront constant fears of booby-traps.
The residents of Chadaghli and nearby Qaranaz, about 100 miles north of Baghdad, were driven out in June after the Sunni Islamist group arrived and killed around 35 locals.
Um Hussein, a woman aged in her 70s, left Chadaghli after her 28-year-old son died attempting to defend the town. The last thing she saw was ISIS dragging her son’s body through the streets behind a car.
"Can you imagine an old woman who lost her son that way and had to stand and walk as if nothing had happened?" she told NBC News during a recent trip to the town organized by the Iraqi government. "I was not able to move [or] to stand on my feet," she said through tears.
ISIS attacked the rural communities during a brutal offensive last year in which it overran huge areas of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
"They came from different directions … driving Humvees and other vehicles belonged to the government," said Abbas Asher Hassan, a 34-year-old teacher from Qaranaz.
Women, children, and elderly people were forced to walk six miles to the town of Tuz Khormato. They were only able to return in December after the local Shiite militia went back to the villages, according to one of the resistance fighters. Ahmed Ali Abbas, 39, told NBC News that his group were able to kill the five ISIS snipers keeping watch over the villages but lost many men to IEDs planted in the houses.
"Damage is everywhere. Houses were destroyed and burned," said 42-year-old farmer Issa Ali of the destruction wrought in Chardaghli.
Ali said people are even reluctant to farm their own land, cautious that ISIS planted IEDs on their farms.
According to Sheikh Zaid, a local tribal leader and teacher, the villages’ water supplies either do not work or are unsafe to drink. "We need the government to repair the electricity as well," the 55-year-old said.
- Alexander Smith