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An explosion in Sinjar, Iraq, May 13, 2016, near Mount Sinjar, Nineveh Province, Iraq. Kurdish forces retook the town from ISIS in Nov. 2015. Its population in 2013 was estimated at 88,023.
An explosion in Sinjar, Iraq, May 13, 2016, near Mount Sinjar, Nineveh Province, Iraq. Kurdish forces retook the town from ISIS in Nov. 2015. Its population in 2013 was estimated at 88,023.Yuri Kozyrev—Noor for TIME
An explosion in Sinjar, Iraq, May 13, 2016, near Mount Sinjar, Nineveh Province, Iraq. Kurdish forces retook the town from ISIS in Nov. 2015. Its population in 2013 was estimated at 88,023.
Iraqi Army commanders survey the front line in the villageof Kharbardan, south of Mosul, May 18 2016. The Iraqi military seized the village from ISIS in March, as a part of a grinding march toward the city of Mosul, a major city that has been under ISIS control since June 2014.
The Iraqi army at a front line position in the village of Kharbardan, south of Mosul, May 18 2016.
An Iraqi soldier prays south of Mosul, May 18, 2016. The Iraqi military is preparing for a major offensive to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS control.
View from Inside a Humvee on the front line in the village of Kharbardan, south of Mosul, Iraq, May 18 2016.
A member of the Hashid Watani (National Mobilization Force), a group of Sunni Arab Iraqi fighters opposed to ISIS, stands along the front line south of the city of Mosul, May 18 2016.
Qubad Miqdad Murad, a police officer in his thirties, stands in a camp for internally displaced people near the Iraqi town of Sinjar, May 13, 2016. Murad returned to Sinjar after Kurdish forces recaptured it from ISIS in November 2015, but he since decided to move to the IDP camp in the mountains above Sinjar, fearing for the safety of his family as ISIS continues to shell the area
Men and boys from a camp for internally displaced people (IDP's), May 17, 2016, Makhmour Kurdistan Iraq, south of Mosul.
Internally displaced people (IDP's) appear in a camp in the mountains above the Iraqi town of Sinjar, May 13, 2016. Thousands of people remain displaced since ISIS' 2014 capture of the town. U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters reclaimed the town in November 2015, but destruction and fighting in the area prevent most residents from returning.
Kurdish fighters take a break while standing guard along the front line against Islamic State forces (ISIS) outside the town of Sinjar, in northern Iraq, May 12, 2016. Reclaimed by Kurdish forces in November 2015, Sinjar is a strategic point between Syria and the ISIS-held city of Mosul.
A small Peshmerga outpost outside in Makhmour, Iraq, May 8, 2016.
A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga armed forces sits atop sandbags, overlooking the ISIS-held city of Mosul, northern Iraq, May 9, 2016. The Kurdish fighters holding the line against ISIS are so close to ISIS positions that they can even pick up the jihadists' radio broadcasts, including propaganda and religious programing. Days earlier, the Kurdish fighters at the Bashiqa front repelled an attack that left at least two dead among their ranks.
Buildings lay in ruins in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, May 13, 2016. Backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, Kurdish forces retook the town from ISIS in November 2015.
Kurdish fighters hold the front line against Islamic State militants outside the town of Sinjar, northern Iraq, May 12, 2016. Backed by airstrikes from a U.S.-led military coalition, Kurdish forces retook the town from ISIS in November 2015.
Kurdish Peshmerga at a small outpost near Makhmour, Kurdistan, northern Iraq, May 8, 2016. These fighters, many armed only with Russian AKs, blocked the ISIS advance into Kurdistan in 2014 after tens of thousands in the Iraqi Army that were trained and equipped with U.S. tanks and artillery fled, abandoning equipment and shedding their uniforms. In late 2015, the Peshmerga quietly opened their base in Makhmour.
An Iraqi Kurdish fighter exhales tobacco smoke at the front line facing ISIS militants outside the town of Makhmour, northern Iraq, May 8, 2016. Makhmour is one of the key fronts in the battle between Iraqi forces and the jihadists of ISIS. But as a result of disagreements and distrust among rival factions, the overall campaign against ISIS is proceeding slowly. A long-anticipated operation to retake the nearby city of Mosul has been delayed for months.
Makhmour Kurdistan Iraq May 08 2016Kurdish Peshmerga at front at Dogherkan, a small Peshmerga outposts near Makhmour.Makhmour Kurdistan Iraq May 08 2016Kurdish Peshmerga at front at Dogherkan, a small Peshmerga outposts near Makhmour.
Men and boys dig a grave for a man named Ahmed Mohamed Ali, in a camp for internally displaced people (IDP's) near the Iraqi town of Makhmour, May 17, 2016. According to camp residents, Ali had been injured during the Iraqi military's offensive on ISIS-held villages in the area, and later collapsed at a local mosque in Makhmour, Kurdistan, Iraq, May 2016. The United Nations said in April that as many as 30,000 people could be forced to flee instability in the Makhmour area, as the Iraqi military pursues an offensive against Islamic State militants in the district.
A 16-year old boy at a camp for displaced people outside the city of Dohuk in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, May 19, 2016. The teenager was taken captive by ISIS fighters in the summer of 2014 and underwent months of forced military training before escaping in 2015.
Men pray outside a camp for internally displaced people (IDP's) near the Iraqi town of Makhmour, May 17, 2016. The United Nations said in April that as many as 30,000 people could be forced to flee instability in the Makhmour area, as the Iraqi military pursues an offensive against Islamic State militants in the district.
The front line near the village of Sultan Abdullah, northern Iraq, May 15, 2016. Kurdish forces are defending their lines against ISIS in northern Iraq, rather than actively pushing into ISIS held territory.
A U.S. Army soldier John Crowmer, 23, from Noblesville, IN, guards the U.S. military base at Camp Swift, near the Iraqi town of Makhmour, May 17, 2016. As of April, at least 4,087 U.S. military personnel were deployed in Iraq, many of them backing Iraqi forces in the drive to reclaim territory from ISIS.
Members of the U.S. Army relax inside a makeshift barracks at Camp Swift, a U.S. forward base near the Iraqi town of Makhmour, Iraq, May 17, 2016. As of April, at least 4,087 U.S. military personnel were deployed in Iraq, many of them backing Iraqi forces in the drive to reclaim territory from ISIS.
U.S. Officers and soldiers from the U.S. military, Iraqi armed forces, and Kurdish forces, participate in a U.S. transfer of authority ceremony in Erbil, in northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, May 17, 2016.
Hearts, the insignia of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, are painted on the fortifications at Camp Swift, a U.S. forward base near the Iraqi town of Makhmour, May 17, 2016.
Children peer from a window in a tent in a camp for internally displaced people (IDP's) outside the city of Dohuk, in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, May 19, 2016.
A displaced child sits in a tent in a camp near the Iraqi town of Makhmour, northern Iraq, May 2016. The United Nations said in April that as many as 30,000 people could be forced to flee instability in the Makhmour area, as the Iraqi military pursues an offensive against Islamic State militants in the district.
Displaced families at a camp near the Iraqi town of Makhmour, northern Iraq, May 15, 2016. The United Nations said in April that as many as 30,000 people could be forced to flee instability in the Makhmour area, as the Iraqi military pursues an offensive against Islamic State militants.
Displaced families at a camp near the Iraqi town of Makhmour, northern Iraq, May 15, 2016. The United Nations said in April that as many as 30,000 people could be forced to flee instability in the Makhmour area, as the Iraqi military pursues an offensive against Islamic State militants.
Khero Elias Khalad, 50, sits in an apartment in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, May 13, 2016. Khalaf fled with his family when ISIS fighters overran the town in August 2014. A shopkeeper, he has returned to live in Sinjar since it was recaptured by Kurdish armed forces in November 2015.
Nasima Abdo, 35, a member of the Yazidi religious minority, appears in a camp for displaced people outside the city of Dohuk, in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, May 19, 2016. Abdo and three of her children were taken captive by ISIS fighters in August 2014. After months in captivity, she escaped, while two of her children remain in ISIS' hands.
Displaced people in a camp outisde the Iraqi town of Makhmour, near the front line where the Iraqi Army is fighting the Islamic State (ISIS). According to the U.N., at least 3.4 million people have been displaced in Iraq since Jan. 2014.
Displaced people share food in a camp near the Iraqi town of Makhmour, northern Iraq, May 2016.
A young girl walks by a wall in the town of Tuz Khurmatu, northern Iraq, May 20, 2016. Walls have been installed in the city as a result of recent fighting between rival Kurdish and Shiite Turkmen factions. The deadly clashes signaled tension among among two groups nominally united in the broader fight against ISIS.
An explosion in Sinjar, Iraq, May 13, 2016, near Mount Sinjar, Nineveh Province, Iraq. Kurdish forces retook the town f
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Yuri Kozyrev—Noor for TIME
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Yuri Kozyrev: On the Front Lines of the War Against ISIS

Jun 22, 2016

Photojournalist Yuri Kozyrev has lived through the full arc of the war in Iraq. Based in Baghdad from 2002 to 2009, he documented the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of the country, from the initial “shock and awe” phase of bombardment through the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. He was on the scene in Tikrit when U.S. forces pulled the deposed dictator Saddam Hussein from his underground hideout.

Kozyrev worked on the front lines as more and more Iraqis grew to reject the U.S. presence in their country and some came to support an armed insurrection against the American forces. He photographed the war day by day as the insurgency metastasized into a brutal sectarian civil war, sowing the seeds of extremism that continue to devastate the country to this day. Working alongside Iraqis and a series of TIME correspondents, he has been an eyewitness to the shattering of Iraq.

Kozyrev recalls one moment in December 2003 when he sensed a shift in the dynamics of the war. He had been with a group of U.S. soldiers near the Baghdad airport when they came under mortar fire from insurgents. “It was crazy, dangerous," he recalls. "There were casualties." A day or two later, as he was going to photograph a group of insurgents, he realized they had taken him and a correspondent to a position where they were shelling the same airport. It was a shocking juxtaposition. “It was crazy, because suddenly you could be with the enemy and see them hitting the airport," he says. "It was weird. There was nothing you could do."

One of the resulting images from that assignment was an Iraqi insurgent, holding a missile launcher, his face covered with a scarf. Kozyrev met the same fighter and his group multiple times, but eventually, the man cut off his access. It was a shift in the tone of the insurgency. “Enough, we’re finished,” he told Kozyrev through an interpreter. “We don’t need your coverage.”

Read next: These 5 Facts Explain the Good—and the Bad—About Iraq Today

Kozyrev also remembers the moment when the U.S. coalition authorities decided to disband the Iraqi army in May 2003, fueling the insurgency. “All the men lost their jobs," he says. "They didn’t have any future. They were actually patient, and then some of them joined the insurgency, and them some of them joined al-Qaeda, and then ISIS."

Another startling moment came in 2009 when he visited Camp Bucca, the vast U.S.-run military prison, which at its peak held 26,000 prisoners. The prison camp, located in the desert 340 miles southwest of Baghdad, was a miserable scene, with detainees in yellow jumpsuits praying, reading the Quran, or talking among themselves inside their barbed-wire confines.

Camp Bucca is now infamous as the place where the organization that would become ISIS was born. Many of the prisoners were Iraqi men seized during raids by the American forces. ISIS’ top commander, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, spent time in the camp. “That was really a huge mistake, just to keep Iraqi men in one place for nothing,” says Kozyrev.

Kozyrev calls his years in Iraq an “amazing experience with horrible consequences.” In May, he returned to the country. I travelled with him throughout northern Iraq to document the new battle against ISIS, which now controls a huge section of the country. The campaign against the jihadists is making slow progress. “Unfortunately," says Kozyrev, "there’s no sign that the problems will be fixed soon.”

Yuri Kozyrev is a photojournalist and a TIME contract photographer. He is represented by Noor.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s International Photo Editor.

Jared Malsin is TIME's Middle East Bureau Chief.

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