With artificial limbs in the place of legs they lost to extremists, a group of Iraqis plunged into a swimming pool for a special race aimed at helping them overcome the horrors of war.
Abdel Zahra Kazem, a soldier from southern Iraq who was wounded in an attack in Baghdad, said getting back in the pool had helped him to rediscover one of his passions in life.
“I’ve swum since I was a child and today I can start again,” he said by the poolside at a hotel in Erbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
Rabie Abdellatif lost a leg in an attack by ISIS in Iraq’s second city Mosul, which was left in ruins by the government’s battle against the extremist group.
Thanks to his artificial limb, he said he has recovered “80 percent of my capabilities from life before”.
“I can drive my car. I can work,” he told AFP, his swimsuit and cap still dripping wet.
By the side of the pool, half a dozen men with artificial legs waited in the shade for their turn splashing in the water.
They were watched by officials from Kurdistan and Kuwait, which has provided funding for the rehabilitation of civilians and fighters from Iraqi Kurdish and federal forces.
The aim, said Erbil governor Nawzad Hadi, is to “give life and hope” to victims of ISIS.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi security personnel were wounded in the three-year battle against ISIS, which at its peak controlled nearly a third of the country as well as swathes of neighboring Syria.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have also been wounded in attacks perpetrated for years by extremist groups across Iraq, which declared victory over ISIS in December.