Islamic State Fighters Leaving Iraqi Communities in Ruins

05 September, 2016

Islamic State (IS) fighters are being forced from cities and towns across Iraq and Syria.

But as IS forces withdraw, they increasingly leave behind death and destruction. They have caused major damage to local economies and harmed the people they already terrorized.

Recently, a VOA reporter visited the oil-rich town of Qayyarah, 60 kilometers south of the city of Mosul. IS forces controlled the town for more than two years -- until last week, when Iraqi forces captured it.

An Iraqi man walks near smoke billowing from oil wells, set ablaze by Islamic State (IS) group militants before fleeing the oil-producing region of Qayyarah, Aug. 30, 2016.
An Iraqi man walks near smoke billowing from oil wells, set ablaze by Islamic State (IS) group militants before fleeing the oil-producing region of Qayyarah, Aug. 30, 2016.

The militants damaged the town's roads and other infrastructure before they left. They also damaged or destroyed many homes.

Oil wells were set on fire. This caused major damage to the economy and the environment. Local reports said at least 10 oil fields were destroyed.

Hussein Jasim lives in Qayyarah. He said Islamic State fighters destroyed the oil fields because they knew how important they were to the town's economy.

Iraqi military officials said the town's military base was also destroyed. Colonel Karim Radwan is an Iraqi military officer who led the attack against the IS forces. He said "the base is not usable now. IS bombed the infrastructure of the base."

The airbase at Qayyarah was important for the Iraqi air force before it was captured by IS in June, 2014. The United States military used the base for several years after U.S. and allied troops entered Iraq in 2003.

Radwan said it will take a lot of time and money before the airfield can be used again.

People in the town said they paid IS fighters a lot of money, and suffered mentally from the town's occupation.

Jasim said, "We either had to pay them or get slaughtered."

Because of the destruction, many people say they will not return to the town for a long time. Many people who lived there fled to the Kurdish area of Iraq or other nearby areas that were still under government control.

Wahid Khalaf said he fled with his family "as the [Iraqi] forces were liberating [Qayyarah]." He told VOA he and his children walked for seven hours to reach safe areas, "taking many dangerous routes."

Another resident -- who did not want to be named -- said thousands of families were affected by the terrorists when they controlled the town.

"These families have no homes or anything. They have nowhere to go," he said, watching people crowded in a truck, fleeing the town.

Experts say IS seeks to cause damage and suffering that lasts long after they have left a town.

"This is exactly what IS wants," said Hamid Majeed, a political observer. "They want to show people that their lives would be even more miserable after [IS] no longer controls their territories."

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Kawa Omar reported this story from Iraq for VOANews. VOA's Sirwan Kajjo provided additional information from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

destruction – n. the act or process of damaging something so badly that it no longer exists or cannot be repaired; the act or process of destroying something

infrastructure – n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region or organization to function properly

route – n. a way that someone or something regularly travels along

resident – n. someone who lives in a particular place

slaughter - v. to kill an animal for food; to kill many people in a violent way

miserable - adj. very unhappy; very severe or unpleasant