Kirkuk, Iraq – Atop a dusty hilltop on the Mullah Abdullah front line in western Kirkuk, a cluster of Peshmerga fighters scan the horizon.
On the other side of a barren field, fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group watch and wait in the scorching summer heat. A year ago, the armed group took control of neighbouring Hawija and has continued to push towards Kirkuk city, the oil-rich capital of Kirkuk Governorate.
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Today, Kurdish flags have been erected at regular intervals along the dirt embankment that comprises this front line. Months earlier, ISIL flags flew in the same area.
This is just one of many front lines in the ongoing war against ISIL, with similar scenes playing out across the country. The prevailing sensation here is of heightened awareness and heavy expectation.
Just the other day, a Peshmerga fighter was hit by a sniper on this very hilltop, a local commander tells Al Jazeera – and with the constant risk of mortar attacks, scanning the sky is second nature. But for the moment, along this particular battle line, all remains quiet.
Simultaneously, fighting rages in other parts of Iraq. In Anbar province in particular, Iraqi forces have been locked in combat with ISIL fighters after the group took control of the capital Ramadi last month. Iraqi soldiers, who have been calling on the international community for more weapons, initially fled in the face of ISIL’s advances in Ramadi, but have since launched a counteroffensive.
ISIL now controls vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, where scores of residents have fled their homes or live in fear. Still others have swelled ISIL’s ranks.
As the war against ISIL drags into its second year, the temporary calm along the Mullah Abdullah front line is illusory. For Iraq’s war-weary citizenry, there is no end in sight.