On Aug. 18, Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi forces retook Mosul Dam, pushing back Islamic State (IS) fighters and wresting a vital strategic asset from their grasp. Since IS swept across the Syrian border, taking Iraq's second-largest city, the dam, which is Iraq's largest and provides electricity to what's left of Mosul's 1.7 million residents, had become a point of dire concern. While IS never expressly threatened to destroy the dam (or halt its flow) once seized, the mere thought of either was a knife poised at the throat of millions of Iraqis. When the United States intervened with airstrikes, which began on Aug. 8, it offered local ground forces some much-needed momentum as IS was forced to cede some of its territorial gains.
Photojournalist Andrew Quilty, on assignment for , was at the dam on Aug. 19, as Kurdish and Iraqi soldiers alike celebrated, jubilant at their win over IS, even if they were not always in agreement over how the dam was won. When a convoy of Humvees carrying Iraqi special forces back from the dam ran into a group of journalists at a checkpoint at Badriya -- halfway between the northern cities of Dohuk and Mosul -- one soldier stood on the hood of a Humvee to unfurl a captured Islamic State flag and claim the victory as their own. Seeing this, the Peshmerga soldiers manning the checkpoint protested immediately. A tense standoff ensued, during which a Kurdish soldier even fired off a warning shot as fighters from both sides brandished national flags and proclaimed victory.
Later, at the dam itself, a trail of armored vehicles and personnel carriers crawled its way forward to Mosul, maneuvering around obliterated IS pickup trucks and blackened craters made by U.S. missiles.
Following the tension at the checkpoint, it was the great irony of the day that toward the head of the snaking convoy was a Kurd wearing the black Iraqi Special Forces uniform. Maj. Gen. Fadhil al-Barwari, 48, had fought with the Peshmerga since the 1980s, but in 2004, the then-newly installed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked him to fight for the Iraqi military. He is now the commander of Iraq's elite U.S.-trained and equipped fighters, and remains a popular hero among both Kurds and Arab Iraqis.
Not far beyond Barwari and his entourage, metallic spurts from several heavy Russian Dushka machine guns rang out at fighter jets circling above the dam complex, as pockets of IS resistance surfaced.
On that day, at least, the black flag of IS was in retreat.
Above, Iraqi Special Forces soldiers shout pro-Iraqi slogans toward Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers manning a checkpoint at Badriya, after the Peshmerga took issue with the Iraqis brandishing flags captured from ISIS. A tense standoff ensued.