Kirkuk is a city of Northern Iraq in the Kurdish region of the country. Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians and foreign workers live beside one another. Back in the day, Saddam Hussein initiated several campaigns to Arabize Kirkuk, evicting Kurdish families and giving their homes over to families from south of Iraq. But when the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 reached the city, Kurdish forces worked to reverse this process. The city fell within the so-called disputed areas; responsibility for administration and security was shared between Baghdad and the Kurdish authorities.  

When people step out of their houses in my home town, they tell their loved ones, “I hope to see you again” — there’s no guarantee they will make it back. I started photographing Kirkuk in 2007. The security situation has been bad since 2003, but it took a turn for the worst with the war against the Islamic State. The war is very close to the city and people are scared. The economy worsened and there are fewer jobs. Arabs are suspicious of the Turkmen and Peshmergas and the other way around. There are still explosions and kidnappings. The city has long been a dangerous place, a flashpoint for Iraq’s many ethnic and sectarian conflicts.

The city is controlled by military members from nearby Iraqi Kurdistan. Many in that semiautonomous northern region consider this a triumph — when the Iraqi army fled in the face of the extremist group known as the Islamic State, the Iraqi Kurdish military seized the opportunity to take control of the city, After the Islamic State is expelled from the country or sufficiently diminished, Kirkuk will undoubtedly be the subject of much tense negotiation between Baghdad and Erbil — I have looked past that, to document my home town in this series of pictures, allowing outsiders a glimpse into daily life in one of Iraq’s most fraught, most fought-over and oftentimes most dangerous cities.

Hawre Khalid is a photographer based in Baghdad.

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