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It was to be the start of an exciting tour of the Middle East—a break from their dull, middle-class life in Kurla West. At least, that is what her husband had told her. The family spent three months in the country, before they packed their bags for Turkey.

In Istanbul, they checked into a hotel room. Fathima remembers being over the moon. She was pregnant with their second child, and spent most of her time in the hotel room. Hussaifa would go out often to meet his friends. After spending five days in Istanbul, they headed south to the Turkey-Syria border. It wasand things Naked Syria women taken a dark turn in the region. An extremist group called Islamic State had captured swathes of territory in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, and declared itself a caliphate.

Its reach extended from Mosul in Iraq in the east, to the outskirts of Aleppo in Syria, km to the west. Hussaifa wanted to answer that call. I still believe that he, too, did not know what lay next for us. IS had plundered the town and driven away its diverse population of Syrians, Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians. Hussaifa, however, was hopeful of finding a job, and he promised Fathima a peaceful life—just like the one they had in Mumbai.

Their daughter Yahya was soon born. As the battle raged, the family was forced to move deep into IS territory. Fathima was pregnant again, and Hussaifa took her km south to Raqqa, a historic Syrian city and the de facto capital of the caliphate. He took up a job there, and their third child, Aisha, was born. Two years later, mayhem broke out again.

Under siege from a coalition of Naked Syria women forces, IS had withdrawn from many of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq. Byits territory had shrunken ificantly. Mosul had been freed and Raqqa was the only major city under IS occupation. In October that year, the coalition forces began their final attack on Raqqa. According to Fathima, Hussaifa died when a shell hit him in He did not go to the battlefield to fight for IS. In MarchBaghouz became the last IS stronghold to fall.

But I do not know where they are now. Fathima, now 33, and her three children are now at a sprawling refugee camp at Al-Hol in eastern Syria. The camp houses more than one lakh people from nearly 50 countries, including widows and children of IS fighters. The facility is more like a prison; families live in seemingly endless rows of tiny tents that have muddy floors covered by thick sheets.

Life in Al-Hol becomes hell during the rains.

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Water seeps through the tents and sewers overflow, turning the camp into a den of diseases. There are four hospitals inside the compound, run by around 30 aid groups, but demand always outstrips supply. It is cold, and the children often fall sick. Fathima and her daughters sat with us in the camp office. Kisar, who had turned eight, was guarding the tent. We sat in one of the two makeshift rooms that were fenced off from the main office space. The rooms had thick walls and PVC doors.

One room was exclusively used by officers of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish, Syrian and Arab militias that run the camp. The other room served as a lounge for visiting diplomats, journalists and researchers. There were brown sofas all around, and a small glass-topped table holding an ashtray.

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We had entered the camp at noon after rigorous security checks. A young Kurdish officer called Aveen had received us in the office and served us hot black tea. She talked about the difficulties in running the camp, before asking us who we wanted to meet. She then arranged for armed guards to escort us to the annex, a section where 12, wives, widows and children of IS fighters Naked Syria women held.

The women inside are highly religious, and they might attack you if you do not. The annex was a place of tension and commotion. There were women shouting at the guards in strange tongues, babies crying nonstop, and mothers calling out for help. The nervous guards kept a tight grip on their rifles, fearing that they would be attacked any time.

It was in this cauldron of resentment that we found Fathima. Clad in a burqa, she was holding her daughters with both hands. When she was told that we were journalists from India, she cried and begged us to help her return home. Mujhe yehaan se leke jayiye What should I call you, sister? She came with a friend—a woman from Seychelles who knew Hindi.

As Fathima recounted her tragic tale, the woman interrupted her several times, asking her not to reveal certain details. I asked the Seychellois woman, who was also clad in a burqa and had her daughter on her lap, how she knew Hindi. I asked Fathima about her relatives. She said she Naked Syria women from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh; Hussaifa was her cousin. Fathima began to talk about life in Azamgarh, and then stopped abruptly. He was talking to me earlier. Her only prayer, she said, was to return home.

Diplomats and activists from other countries had been visiting Al-Hol regularly to look for their nationals. We were her great hope, said Fathima, as this was the first time that Indians had come calling.

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I could get killed if I oppose them. So I stay away from them and take care of my children. She hugged me before she took leave. The map of Syria resembles a stocky bird taking flight—its head and beak pointing northeast, to the tri-junction of Syria, Iraq and Turkey.

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The Euphrates Naked Syria women a natural barrier that divides northeastern Syria from the rest of the country. Its basin is so fertile that it was where humans first started agriculture, more than 9, years ago, and where civilisation first took flight.

Like any bird, pre-war Syria, too, depended on its head and beak for sustenance. It was from the northeast that the country drew much of its oil and agricultural wealth. Inlong before the IS ram began, Syria used to produce more than 4,00, barrels of oil a day, mainly from the wells in the northeast.

Bythe output had plunged to just 24, barrels. Even though IS has been defeated, Syria cannot hope for an immediate turnaround in its fortunes, because the northeast has become an autonomous region under the control of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces. It exists as a federated union of nearly a dozen autonomous subregions.

Qamishli does not have a fully functional airport.

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A pontoon bridge across the River Tigris took us from Iraq to Rojava. Qamishli lay another km away. The road to the city was narrow and ridden with potholes, and it stretched across a barren landscape dotted with huge, rusted, crane-like structures. These were pumpjacks, which help draw oil from onshore wells. The pumpjacks were going up and down nonstop, as red pillars of fire and huge black clouds rose above the horizon. The refineries were being fed, apparently.

As we neared Qamishli, we saw oil tankers lining the road. Further ahead, at a village called Gire Kire, a series of tanks and open pits stretched along a dirt-filled road. These tanks and pits serve as stopgap refineries. Crude is burnt in open pits, producing limited yields of poor-quality petroleum products that are piped into tanks for filtering. The technique is primitive, and it causes huge environmental damage. It had left the earth in Gire Kire inky black.

Streams of leaked oil and layers of slippery sludge made it difficult for workers to even walk. As we watched, a short man with a red-and-white scarf tied around his grimy face came to us. Yakub Ali, 38, said he used to be a wheat farmer. The war left him working in the refineries. I have five children. What else can I do to feed the family? IS began taking control of the oil fields in Rojava in Oil production and smuggling became its major source of revenue after it seized the wells Naked Syria women Deir ez-Zor province in southern Rojava.

The SDF took back control of the wells in Since then, Rojava has been deriving its political leverage from oil. Rojava is now largely a safe zone, but geopolitics deny it lasting peace.

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Last October, Turkey launched a cross-border offensive against the SDF to create a 32km-deep buffer zone along the Syrian side of the border. Turkey is trying to use this buffer zone to resettle Syrian refugees who had crossed into the country in recent years. The Kurds view the US withdrawal as a betrayal, one that could force them to cut a deal with the Syrian government, with Russia acting as the go-between.

Rojava believes it holds a trump card in this great game—the oil fields. As things stand, the situation remains volatile. Qamishli is very close to the border, so it is part of the unstable buffer zone that Turkey has created. The city had come under heavy fire during the Turkish offensive in October, but things have calmed down now. Qamishli is now largely considered safe, despite stray incidents of violence.

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From Qamishli, we travelled south to Al-Hasakah. The shortest route to this major city is an 85km-long desert highway that remains vulnerable to attacks by IS sleeper cells. So we took the roundabout route, travelling km through the M4 Motorway, which is perhaps the most important highway in Rojava now. Realising that controlling the M4 meant cutting the Kurd forces into two, Turkey quickly moved into eastern Rojava.

Kurdish fighters were forced to push back, helping Turkey establish the buffer zone. Today, Naked Syria women it runs roughly parallel to the international border, the M4 serves as the de facto boundary of the buffer zone on the Syrian side. The wheat fields that once flanked the M4 are now barren. There was an eerie silence as the prison gates opened.

And it remained unbroken as we walked a pebbled pathway inside the compound that held more than 7, IS fighters awaiting trial. The prison director was waiting for us outside another huge iron gate. Clad in combat fatigues, and with a trench coat slung over one shoulder, he shook hands with us, but did not reveal his name.

The armed guards who took over from him asked us to be cautious while talking to prisoners. Do not let slip any news or information, they said. The prison cells in Al-Hasakah have thick steel doors painted green. The doors have apertures big enough for prisoners to stick their he out, but they mostly remain covered by metal plates. As an armed guard opened one aperture, a hollow-eyed man poked his head through.

He said his name was Isha Hamad Hussain, and that he was Syrian.

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