Cinders and Desolation in Iraq's Hawija after Isis

Cinders and Desolation in Iraq's Hawija after Isis

One side of the billboard calls for jihad, while the other warns of death for smokers. Iraq's Hawija still bears clear signs of its three years under jihadist rule.

Islamic State group jihadists set fire to everything they could before they fled an Iraqi government offensive on the northern town in oil-rich Kirkuk province.

Thick black smoke billows from burning oil wells around the town. Fields lie scorched in the surrounding region known for its cereal crops and watermelons.

Government troops and paramilitary units on Thursday retook Hawija, one of the jihadist group's last bastions in the country.

Beside roads leading into the town, villagers throw themselves at passing military convoys begging for food.

"We haven't seen a teabag or spoonful of sugar for four years," Um Imed says, tears in her eyes.

"Our children are dying of hunger and go barefoot," she says, fiddling with the edge of her long black robe, covered in dust from the passing vehicles.

"Only ISIS families got fat from the taxes they levied on our crops and the quarter of our produce" they took for themselves, she says.

Iraqi forces launched an operation against ISIS after the Iraqi Premier announced the first phase of the operation to liberate Hawija and surrounding areas on September 21.

Hawija, north of Baghdad, and a stretch along the Syrian border, west of the Iraqi capital, are the last pieces of territory still in the hands of ISIS in the country. The group took control of about a third of Iraq in 2014.