KIRKUK, Iraq — For decades, the oil-rich city of Kirkuk has been the epicenter of a territorial dispute between the Iraqi central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
Last month, Sunni militants seized control of a large area of north and central Iraq. They now surround Kirkuk from two sides, cutting off the city's land borders from the central government. Kurdish forces wasted no time moving in to secure Kirkuk from Islamic State militants gaining control of what they claim to be Kurdish land.
But the population of Kirkuk is diverse with Turkmen, Kurds, Arabs and both Assyrian and Chaldean Christians who all likewise stake a claim to this historical land.
The city has frequently been described as a "powder keg" of racial hostility waiting to explode, though the streets of Kirkuk tell a different story. Amid political conflict and instability, citizens have lived side by side and mixed freely for centuries. Between the police roadblocks and front lines that surround it, the generosity and welcoming nature of the people of Kirkuk give hope for the future of this extraordinary city.
The sun sets over the Kirkuk Citadel, which stands on a peak overlooking the city. The citadel, dating back an estimated 5,000 years, houses ancient mosques, churches and even a synagogue. Many believe that beneath the green domes of its central sanctuary lie the remains of the prophet Daniel, making it a sacred place for Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
A Christian headstone stands on the grounds of the Red Church in Kirkuk, overlooking a Muslim mosque and burial ground. While the city of Kirkuk enjoys a rich and culturally diverse history, it has also been plagued by sectarian violence. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
The flames of an oil field burn on the edge of the city of Kirkuk. Beneath the city lies an estimated 8.7 billion barrels in known oil reserves. This week, the Kurds began pumping Kirkuk crude into their own pipelines, a move which has angered the Iraqi central government who controled Kirkuk's oil prior to the Islamic State crisis. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
Stall owners sell vegetables at Kaisaria market in Kirkuk. While sectarian violence surrounds the city, within the marketplace people of all races mix freely. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
An Arab man buys bananas from a stall in Kaisaria market in central Kirkuk. Despite the city's reputation for violence and hostility, friendly faces are a common sight here. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
A woman walks through the clothing section of Kaisaria market, which stands below the ruins of Kirkuk Citidel. The sign above the archway says this market was established in 1883. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
A woman shops at the Kaisaria market in Kirkuk, a favorite among women for clothing and personal items. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
A man walks past a perfume display as stall owners pack up at sunset at the Kaisaria market, Kirkuk. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
Residents take a rest on al-Quds Street in Kirkuk. Recent efforts to beautify the city have included the establishment of numerous parks, walkways and monuments. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
Kirkuk residents wait in lines for up to 12 hours to purchase their 30-liter fuel allotment. The recent crisis has led to mass fuel shortages across the country as oil refineries have shut down amid the conflict. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
A family stands outside their home in a Kirkuk suburb. Power shortages are also taking a toll, giving families little relief from the summer heat, which often surpasses 104 degrees Fahrenheit. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
A woman plays with her granddaughter in front of the family home on a hot Kirkuk afternoon. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
A weapons dealer bargains with customers at a gun market in downtown Kirkuk. When Sunni militants surrounded the area, Iraqi army forces fled, leaving behind a stockpile of weapons that are now openly sold to civilians on this street corner. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
Children talk to a Kurdish security officer in a Kirkuk backstreet during a routine check of their neighborhood. Kirkuk forces are a regular sight in the streets since they took control of the city last month. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
A Kurdish security officer takes aim at a vehicle as it is stopped and searched following an IED explosion that targeted a police convoy nearby, damaging a personnel carrier and causing one minor injury. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
Suspects are lined up after a routine identification and home search in an Arab suburb of Kirkuk. Kurdish police carry lists of suspects with possible connections to Sunni militant groups as well as arresting citizens from certain areas under Islamic State control. Some are questioned and released. Others are arrested for further investigation. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
Peshmerga forces man a front line between Kurdish and Islamic State held territories. Checkpoints mark the entry on each side separated by a 500-meter stretch of no man's land. Civilians are permitted to pass between the borders following an ID check and vehicle search. Public transport still operates across this front line between Kirkuk and Mosul. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
Sheep stand on the roadside ready for sale, a common sight throughout the city. Despite the insecurity that surrounds its borders, life within Kirkuk proceeds largely as normal. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
A sheep is slaughtered by the roadside as customers wait on a couch nearby for their purchase. In supermarkets, lamb sells for around $11 per kg, while purchasing a live sheep that is butchered as you wait reduces the price to around $9 per kilo. Most Kirkuk residents prefer to buy both lamb and chicken freshly slaughtered. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
Fish roast by an open fire on the Kirkuk roadside ready for purchase. This cooking method is known as masgof and is common throughout Iraq. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
Customers purchase melons from a roadside stall. Goods of all kinds are sold on the roadside including fruit, cigarettes, livestock and fuel. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
The sun sets over the Kirkuk Citadel and city. This month is the Islamic month of fasting known as Ramadan. At sunset, the fast is broken with a meal traditionally enjoyed as a family unit. The streets empty as residents rush home for a long awaited home cooked meal. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)
A young boy rides his bike as the sun sets over Kirkuk. As various forces battle it out for the city's oil reserves, life in the city continues. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)