Iraq: A Country Standing Divided

Photographs by Lynsey Addario

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Reportage by Getty Images is proud to present this feature on behalf of the world-renowned photojournalist, Lynsey Addario. For this essay she travelled to Iraq to cover the rapidly changing security situation for The New York Times. We are now able to offer this work on an exclusive basis to our global clients.

In June this year Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a call to arms, urging his followers to join forces with the government’s military in order to stop the march of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) through the country and towards the capital, Baghdad.

Simultaneously another of Iraq’s foremost political leaders, Mooktada al-sadr has resurrected his Mahdi Army, one of the most experienced and largest battle groups in the country. Mooktada refuses to let the government have any control of the Mahdi army.

This direct challenge to the authority of Iraq’s Shiite establishment highlights the fissures that exist, not only in the country’s two islamic sects, Sunni and Shiite, but also within the groups themselves. The fear being that these fissures could lead to a more fundamental breaking up of the fragile political system put in place after the US invasion of 2003, and perhaps the concept of Iraq as a nation state as well.

Lynsey travelled through Iraq to the regions in and around Najaf, Kufa and Kerbala to see for herself the feelings of the Shiite people as well as the forming of these new armies and militia.

In Kerbala Lynsey Addario witnessed the heightened state of tension as federal police and Iraqi security forces wait in readiness for the advancing forces of ISIS. Roughly two thousand men in this region have volunteered to help defend the country and its holy sites. In the police academy grounds, on the outskirts of Najaf they undergo training. It remains to be seen just what resistance they can present.

This show of unity and defiance toward the threat of the advancing ISIS forces is being mirrored across Southern Iraq. In Kufa, where Addario witnessed more civilian volunteers training in order to assist the Shiite militias, demonstrations were held by Shiite tribal men and boys where they danced and chanted, weapons raised above there heads in defiance of the encroaching ISIS forces.

All of this is happening against the background of a steady stream of bodies of fighters and those killed in the recent sectarian violence arrive in Najaf from north of Najaf for burial. Since ISIS began sweeping through the west of Iraq, and taking control of villages and cities, they have also stated their intention to attack Shiite holy places and shrines.