Yahoo! News Photo Staff

On patrol with the Iraqi militia hunting the last remnants of the Islamic State group

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Although the Islamic State group has been defeated militarily in Iraq, members of the militia group still find areas to hide. Some parts of the Sunni population give them shelter. They also find cover in the mountains around Hawija. From their hiding places, they set up attacks: Suddenly popping up at improvised checkpoints in the winding roads that lead through the hills, they arrest or kill those passing, or take hostages and blackmail the government for possible prisoner exchanges. They also place IEDs and send suicide attackers into cities in the region.

Iraqi federal police have outposts in the region, but their patrols only operate during the day. At night, they retreat to their bases, when the caliphate of terror becomes a guerrilla terror group.

The Islamic State group’s favorite targets are members of the Shia militia al-Hashd al-Shaabi. Also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, are Shia-dominated militia was created in 2014 following a fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric. Victory over the Islamic State group in Iraq would be inconceivable without al-Hashd al-Shaabi, which filled the gap left by the Iraqi Army. But they are also an Iran-supported force operating in a traditional Sunni area in Iraq.  And members of the Shia-dominated militia have been accused of massacring Iraqi Sunnis.

Today, al-Hashd al-Shaabi is fighting sleeper cells and defending against Islamic State group attacks. Unlike the Iraqi federal police in the region, they can react quickly because they don’t have to follow a strict chain of command.


Based in Berlin, freelance photojournalist Sebastian Backhaus covers humanitarian crises and wars throughout the Middle East. These photographs were taken while Backhaus was embedded with the al-Hashd al-Shaabi during their search for hidden Islamic State group members.


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<b><em>Baiji, Iraq</em> | </b> A Shia militia Hashd al-Shaabi fighter rides on the back of a pickup truck heading towards a nighttime operation targeting the terrorist militia Islamic State group, which hides in this region. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> At headquarters, Hajji Imad Karim al-Shahmani, commander of the Shiite Hashed al-Shaabi units in Baiji, outlines details of his strategies in the fight against ISIS on a military map. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong> </em>Units of the Shia unit Hashd al-Schaabi pass a bridge that ISIS blew up during their retreat. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> Fighters of the Shia militia Hashd al-Shaabi gather in a Sunni neighborhood in Baiji before the starting their seach for suspected ISIS members. One of the fighters is wearing a knife with traces of blood. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> Shia Hashed al-Shaabi units invade households in a Sunni neighborhood in Baiji to arrest suspected ISIS members and search for incriminating evidence. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> A Shia Hashd al-Shaabi fighter searches a bedroom in a Sunni neighborhood in Baiji to find suspected Islamic State group members and look for incriminating evidence. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> A member of the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militia looks at a monitor showing live images of a night vision device. Using a joystick, he operates a camera that scans the area of his unit for possible ISIS intruders, who have committed multiple suicide attacks inside this base. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> Hajji Imad Karim al-Shahmani, commander of the Hashd al-Shaabi units in Beiji, shows on his phone photos of ISIS jihadists that his unit has found on mobiles of ISIS members they have caught. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> On the wall of a house in a Sunni quarter of Baiji is written: “Property of the Islamic State.” (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> A fighter of the Shia Hashd al-Shababi militia in Baiji searches a passerby in front of a building where their commander holds a meeting with Sunni tribal leaders. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> Fighter of the Shiite Hashd al-Shababi militia during a nocturnal mission to protect their commander, Hajji Imad Karim al-Shahmani, who is being escorted to meet with Sunni tribal leaders.(Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> Fighters of the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militia look at a grenade and an explosive device that they found in an uninhabited building that were left there by the ISIS member. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> Fighters of the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia invade a Sunni household in the search for hidden ISIS members. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> A unit of the Shia Hashed al-Shaabi militia arrests a construction worker. He is suspected of being involved with ISIS. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)

<em><strong>Baiji, Iraq |</strong></em> Fighters of the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia invade a Sunni household in the search for ISIS members. An older man shows that he is not armed. (Photo: Sebastian Backhaus)