After Iraqi battles, residents choose displacement
GWER, Iraq (AP) — Misspelled graffiti on walls pockmarked by bullets and torn up propaganda stickers make up the few remaining traces of the Islamic State group in this northern Iraqi ghost town after Kurdish forces finally managed to free it from militant control.
Also missing are as many as 20,000 residents who once lived in the town and are now too scared to return after Kurdish peshmerga forces reclaimed Gwer from militants last month with the help of American airstrikes.
All that’s left are empty buildings with the phrase “Islamic State” painted on walls. In many instances it is misspelled to read “Salam State” — or state of peace — a sign that many of the militants holding the town were probably foreign fighters. Torn-up stickers with the group’s black flag logo litter the streets. Much of the graffiti has since been painted over with “long live Kurdistan.”
Residents of this modest town have not been celebrating its liberation. The streets, which buzzed with cars and pedestrians as recently as two months ago, are deserted. Since August 10, when peshmerga forces were able to retake the towns of Gwer and neighboring Makhmour, hardly anyone has returned home.