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They Look Death In The Eye

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Firing is intense as Kurdish troops try to liberate the town of Sinjar in Northern Iraq from under the control of the extremist organisation ISIS. Sinjar, which is part of the Kurdish region, was occupied by ISIS in August 2014. Their goal was to incorporate the area into the extremist Islamic state, but the Kurds disagreed. They attacked the town in December and occupied part of the Northern corner of Sinjar. Niklas Meltio took two photographing trips here, right to the front line of the war. He lived with the Kurdish fighters only a few dozen metres away from the positions of ISIS. Snipers were stalking their every move and so they had to move around town carefully - or run!

Death lurks behind every corner in Sinjar. The soldiers of the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, the peshmerga, have fought successfully against ISIS. The word peshmerga means "those who look death in the eye".
eath lurks behind every corner in Sinjar. The soldiers of the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, the peshmerga, have fought successfully against ISIS. The word peshmerga means "those who look death in the eye".
The town of Sinjar is strategically crucial. An important maintenance road for the extreme Islamists runs through it, connecting the big cities under ISIS control - Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. Cutting off the maintenance road would be a heavy loss to ISIS since it would make the recapture of Mosul easier.
The town of Sinjar is strategically crucial. An important maintenance road for the extreme Islamists runs through it, connecting the big cities under ISIS control - Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. Cutting off the maintenance road would be a heavy loss to ISIS since it would make the recapture of Mosul easier.
Kurdish fighters Bewar (left) and Sipan are firing at the enemy positions from roof level. The ISIS positions are right across the street.
Kurdish fighters Bewar (left) and Sipan are firing at the enemy positions from roof level. The ISIS positions are right across the street.

In the front line, Niklas Meltio got to know and befriended several fighters. "I followed Kurdish fighter Araz Herkî from the riots of war to his home village and met his family, whom Araz supports with his soldier's salary. I also got to film as Kurdish female fighters celebrated International Women's Day by attacking the positions of the extreme Islamists," Meltio recounts.

The links below open up short films on these subjects and on the background to the war over the town of Sinjar.

The women's attack

The Yazidis, ISIS, and the Kurds

Araz, fighter

The battles in the town of Sinjar began to quieten down in the spring of 2015. According to Kurdish fighter Beriwan, they now spend most of their time on guard and in short skirmishes with the ISIS fighters.

Beriwan's Dream

The battles in the town of Sinjar began to quieten down in the spring of 2015. According to Kurdish fighter Beriwan, they now spend most of their time on guard and in short skirmishes with the ISIS fighters.

The area called Kurdistan is divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. For the Kurds, the war against ISIS isn't just a battle against extreme Islamists. The ultimate goal is an independent Kurdistan.
The area called Kurdistan is divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. For the Kurds, the war against ISIS isn't just a battle against extreme Islamists. The ultimate goal is an independent Kurdistan.

The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state of its own. However, the road to independence is long and rocky. The Kurds have fought for independence since the 1920s. Sinjar brought the Kurdish troops together, but even if the battle ended in their victory, no one knows what would happen after that. The tensions between the Kurdish groups are deeply-rooted, and there's no common view about Sinjar's future. Some fear that the Kurdish groups that are now fighting as a united front might turn their weapons at each other in the future.