Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kurdistan's Wild West

By Jamal Penjweny
  • Chamchamal police chief Dara Abdullah stands in front of police headquarters to greet a high-level delegation of security officials. Security forces were sent to the restive town following a spate of unsolved murders.
    Chamchamal police chief Dara Abdullah stands in front of police headquarters to greet a high-level delegation of security officials. Security forces were sent to the restive town following a spate of unsolved murders.
  • Around 150 troops arrived in Chamchamal to crack down on a crime wave that had drawn complaints from concerned citizens. The troops arrived in armoured personnel carriers equipped with heavy machine guns.
    Around 150 troops arrived in Chamchamal to crack down on a crime wave that had drawn complaints from concerned citizens. The troops arrived in armoured personnel carriers equipped with heavy machine guns.
  • Chamchamal, some 20 kilometres outside the city of Kirkuk, is a sprawling, wind-swept town that was a centre for fuel smuggling during the Baathist regime. Many of the town’s streets are unpaved and filled with debris and potholes.
    Chamchamal, some 20 kilometres outside the city of Kirkuk, is a sprawling, wind-swept town that was a centre for fuel smuggling during the Baathist regime. Many of the town’s streets are unpaved and filled with debris and potholes.
  • A guard sits outside the office of Chamchamal’s communist party. The head of the party told IWPR, "Many of the problems in this city stem from its mix of tribal people who don’t believe in co-existence."
    A guard sits outside the office of Chamchamal’s communist party. The head of the party told IWPR, "Many of the problems in this city stem from its mix of tribal people who don’t believe in co-existence."
  • Two boys ride a motorcycle through the abandoned weapons market in Chamchamal. The cart seen at right is loaded with ammunition, holsters and other military gear. The open sale of guns to civilians was recently banned, but residents said the weapons were simply moved to a new location and could be procured with little effort.
    Two boys ride a motorcycle through the abandoned weapons market in Chamchamal. The cart seen at right is loaded with ammunition, holsters and other military gear. The open sale of guns to civilians was recently banned, but residents said the weapons were simply moved to a new location and could be procured with little effort.
  • A worker shapes steel at a construction site overlooking Chamchamal. The town surrounds an ancient citadel that rises above the traditional bazaar in the town centre.
    A worker shapes steel at a construction site overlooking Chamchamal. The town surrounds an ancient citadel that rises above the traditional bazaar in the town centre.
  • A student in Chamchamal shows off a wooden-handled switchblade. Several young men said they carry weapons at all times to protect themselves from criminals.
    A student in Chamchamal shows off a wooden-handled switchblade. Several young men said they carry weapons at all times to protect themselves from criminals.
  • Karim Agha Hamawandi, leader of the area’s largest tribe, gazes out the window of his ornate greeting room in Chamchamal. There are ten tribes in Chamchamal, according to Hamawandi, and tribal disputes are generally settled by a meeting of tribal chiefs.
    Karim Agha Hamawandi, leader of the area’s largest tribe, gazes out the window of his ornate greeting room in Chamchamal. There are ten tribes in Chamchamal, according to Hamawandi, and tribal disputes are generally settled by a meeting of tribal chiefs.
  • Boys fly kites on the hillside of the ancient citadel that sits above the town.
    Boys fly kites on the hillside of the ancient citadel that sits above the town.

With a reputation for lawlessness, the town of Chamchamal has long been considered Iraqi Kurdistan's "Wild West'.

A recent increase in violent crime has prompted a group of residents to call on the Kurdistan Regional Government to take action. In response, hundreds of troops were deployed in the town on February 4.