The homes left behind by ISIS

Story highlights

  • Magnus Wennman photographed villages where ISIS militants once lived in Iraq
  • An offensive is underway to drive ISIS out of the city of Mosul

(CNN)Where there is danger, where there is death, there is also responsibility.

For Magnus Wennman, it is that responsibility and drive to tell a story that has catapulted him from war zone to war zone and conflict to conflict.
    In the past 20 years, the Swedish photographer has seen his share of blood and violence. But the plight of the Iraqi people -- and those ensconced in the middle of the battle for Mosul -- has taken the meaning of warfare to a new level.
    "I would say this is probably the worst situation I've seen," Wennman said.
    Photographer Magnus Wennman
    "There is no filter, no one can feel safe, and there are no safe areas. This conflict is so brutal. (ISIS militants) are not concerned if it's civilians, journalists or anyone -- they are all the enemy. It's a very, very scary situation."
    Wennman, working for Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, was embedded with Kurdish Peshmerga troops on the opening day of the assault on Mosul. He was allowed to enter a number of villages that had been inhabited by ISIS troops before they were driven out by coalition forces.
    He was guided past hundreds of booby traps and improvised explosive devices to homes that had housed ISIS fighters and a huge collection of bomb-making equipment.
    "Everything was pretty much destroyed because of the battle the day before," he said.
    "In my opinion, the people who were living there didn't really prepare for a life there. There was bomb-making equipment everywhere. It seemed that the people who had lived there were just preparing for war."
    Wennman had visited Iraq a month earlier to chart the journey of refugees who were fleeing the violence. He returned to tell a story, which he says has become "the most important of the year."
    His "Where the Children Sleep" series, in which he documented the struggles of Syrian refugees, touched hearts across the world and was universally lauded.
    He has witnessed a number of harrowing sights and at times wrestled with the emotional side of his work, as he did during his most recent trip to Iraq.
    "I think in one way you have to protect yourself from feelings," he said, "and you do that with the help of your camera and profession. But sometimes it's really hard.

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    "If you don't protect yourself, you're not able to work. It's something you just have to deal with."
    Now back in Sweden, Wennman hopes that his photos will prick the public consciousness.
    "I want those looking to remember that it's not a big group of people who are being targeted," he said.
    "It's millions of different people. They could all be you and me."