Mat Wolf Mat Wolf

Freelance journalist specializing in the Middle East. Contact me at [email protected] for direct pitches.

Collections created

Thumb sm
Syrian Kurdish Refugees Find a Home i...
Akre
By Mat Wolf
20 Mar 2015

March 20, 2015
Akre, Iraqi Kurdistan 


Housed inside a former detention facility, Syrian Kurds who fled fighting in their homeland are doing their best to restore normalcy in their lives in the mountainous Iraqi Kurdish city of Akre in the Dohuk government.
 
At the Akre settlement for Syrian Kurds—housed inside a former prison and Baathist military base—parents look on as their children run around the facility’s courtyard setting off fireworks. Youngsters are also working on a mural covering part of the two-story, yellow brick facility’s walls and stairwells in an art project sponsored by the Rise Foundation NGO and local teachers. Cartoon characters, animals and hearts are popular themes in the artwork.
 
“I like the trees, flowers, woods—the natural views,” says English teacher and fellow refugee Nazim Qamr, 29. He adds he’d prefer the children avoid cartoon characters, but it’s not up to him.
 
“We ask the children and listen to their opinions about what they like and don’t like,” Qamr says. 
 
As rays of sun occasionally poke through the clouds on an otherwise gloomy March 20, Iraqi Kurdistan’s mountains and postcard beauty makes it easy to forget the Akre settlement is a refugee camp. Housing just under 1,500 people—many of them small children—its residents are afforded small apartments converted from prison cells, and many admit they’re superior to the UN tents and ad-hoc structures that define many of the region’s refugee camps.
 
“They gave each family a room,” says 24-year-old English teacher Kawther Ahmed, originally from Damascus. She came to Akre with her family a year and a half ago, and said camp administrators from Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government have done their best to ensure the Syrian Kurds feel welcome. “Compared to the tents, this building is better than the tents,” she says.
 
Because the Syrians at Akre have been taken in by their fellow Kurds, they’re also allowed more privileges than the local government typically allows non-Kurdish refugees. Residents of the Akre settlement are allowed to freely come and go from the camp once they’ve filed residency paperwork, and can seek work in the local community. But despite some advantages given to Kurdish refugees in Kurdish territory, many of Akre’s Syrians still bear the scars of their homeland’s complex civil war, and have faced difficulties in adjusting to life in Iraq.
 
Adnan Mahmoud, 35, says he is originally a mechanic from Qamishli who fled the forces of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and came to Iraq a year and half ago. Since that time he’s developed a cataract in his left eye, and he says he’s gone partially blind. “It’s a simple surgery, but they don’t have doctors here to do it, and I’ve filed paperwork to go to a hospital that can, but nothing’s working,” he says.

He adds his young daughter Haifa has suffered a knee injury, and has had an X-ray done, but she also needs surgery and the refugees at Akre can’t find basic medical care.
 
Mahmoud’s friend and neighbor Samir Mohamed Saleh, 31, is a former restaurant worker who lived in both Syria and Lebanon before fleeing to Iraq a year and a half ago. He adds that in addition to insufficient medical care, work opportunities for Syrian Kurds in Iraq are limited and low paying.
 
They both say they’d like to be able to find real, serious work like they had in Syria. Like other men in the camp, they’ve found work packing and loading gravel, but they say the salary is poor and the work exhausting, sometimes for as little as $1.30 a day.
 
“We need real work, we need self-respect,” Samir says.
 
He adds however he thinks the Iraqi Kurds have been gracious, and that at least in Akre he has a roof over his head and food to eat.
 
“It’s good here, we have bread, electricity, food and water,” he says. “The Kurds in Iraq have helped us a lot, I mean we’re the same nation, but we still need more.” 

Thumb sm
Sample media
Peshmerga Clash with Islamic State Mi...
Frontlines near Mula Abdula Kirkuk,Iraq
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

Responding to an incursion by Islamic State fighters on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk on Jan. 29-30, Saturday Peshmerga PUK fighters reacted by going on the offensive, launching an attack on the ISIS-held village of Mula Abdulla just five kilometers south of Maktab Khaled. Supported by anti-ISIS coalition airstrikes from A-10s and other aircraft, approximately 600 Peshmerga fighters used tanks, RPGs, and small arms to assault what they estimated to be 250 ISIS fighters holed up in the village. ISIS responded with mortars and small arms, and as of dusk, the battle for Mula Abdulla was still at a standstill. However, ISIS return fire greatly diminished after several passes by an A-10, which struck their mortar positions to the cheers of Peshmerga fighters taking cover behind a berm just 30 feet away. An improvised explosive device struck at least one Peshmerga vehicle; the Kurds warned that many of the devices in the immediate area—held by ISIS just days before—could pose a threat to Kurdish operations. Peshmerga authorities conducted controlled detonations of some of the devices they found, as well as buried with a bulldozer the corpses of ISIS fighters killed the day before.

Thumb sm
Modern Hieroglyphics of Egypt
Cairo, Egypt
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

The graffiti and street art in Cairo are an ever-changing landscape and canvases. This art has been able to publicly show the collective unease and disenfranchisement of a younger generation of Egyptians fed-up with both the previous Morsi, and current military-appointed government.

Simple graffiti, i.e. just text saying "Sisi is a killer," "down with the Muslim Brotherhood," etc. is super common in Egypt, and can be found everywhere. However, groups with more artistic aspirations were able to flourish in the period following 2011, creating legitimate works of art and murals in major parts of the city reflecting the fears and frustrations of the Arab Spring. Political, but not necessarily politically aligned with one group, the work was commonly just as critical of Mubarak and the military as it was of the Muslim Brotherhood government.

The Mona Lisa Brigade we see in the photo essay started in 2010 and 2011 at the onset of the anti-Mubarak protests. It has a core group of four permanent members. That number sometimes fluctuates as some members have immigrated to the United States, and others have had to go serve their military time. They originally started out as one of many political graffiti crews in and around Tahrir square, painting images that were anti-military, and anti-Mubarak, but in the last year they’ve decided to choose less political themes out of fear of persecution : they shifted their focus and are doing urban beautification, like painting the faces of neighborhood children on the walls of Ard El-Lewa neighborhood, a low income area of greater Cairo.

But since summer 2013, Egypt's new military rulers have sought to rollback many of the revolution's accomplishments. A new legislation that bans and prosecutes the art form was introduced in November 2013 to outlaw politically-oriented graffiti. Regime intimidation hasn't been solely responsible for the waning of a once vibrant artistic community. Rather, the stark divides in the country between different groups of supporters for the military and Islamists have left little room for artistic commentary. As one artist put it, "criticizing the army puts you in the same camp as the Muslim Brotherhood and criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood puts you the same camp as the army."

Media created

Thumb sm
Akre18
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

A Syrian Kurdish woman in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee settlement cleans clothes in one of the site's laundry facilities.

Thumb sm
Akre19
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

A Syrian Kurdish woman in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee settlement stitches clothing. A shop at the site has found work for women making and mending garments.

Thumb sm
Akre16
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

A Syrian Kurdish girl in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee camp poses next to a portion of a mural she painted. The mural was organized by the camp's school and the Rise Foundation NGO.

Thumb sm
Akre17
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurdish children in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee camp.

Thumb sm
Akre14
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurdish children in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee camp work on a mural organized by the camp's school and the Rise Foundation NGO.

Thumb sm
Akre15
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurdish children in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee camp play football on a day off from school on the Newroz holiday.

Thumb sm
Akre13
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurds Ahmed, 20, and Mohamed, 43, sit outside their shop in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee camp.

Thumb sm
Akre10
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

An extended Syrian Kurdish refugee family sits outside a mural at the Akre refugee settlement in Iraqi Kurdistan. The woman on the far right, Molida, holds her grandson Ali who she is now raising herself after the boy's parents were killed in the conflict in Syria.

Thumb sm
Akre7
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurdish refugee Adnan Mahmoud, 35, holds an X-ray of his daughter Haifa's leg at the Akre refugee settlement in Iraqi Kurdistan. Mahmoud says Haifa needs surgery for her leg, but medical facilities in the camp are lacking.

Thumb sm
Akre9
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurdish children in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee camp work on a mural organized by the camp's school and the Rise Foundation NGO.

Thumb sm
Akre5
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurdish refugee Hadia Faramaz Mohamed prepares tea in her small apartment she shares with her husband and daughter at the Akre refugee settlement in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Akre site was previously used as a prison and a military base.

Thumb sm
Akre6
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurdish refugee Adnan Mahmoud, 35, holds his daughter Haifa at the Akre refugee settlement in Iraqi Kurdistan. Mahmoud says he has gone blind in his left eye from a cataract, and doctors in the camp are unable or unwillingly to provide him with eye surgery.

Thumb sm
Akre3
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurdish children in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee camp play a game of marbles. The settlement has just under 1,500 residents according to UN data from February 2015.

Thumb sm
Akre4
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

A Syrian Kurdish child in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee settlement stands outside a mural created by local children with the support of Akre's school and the Rise Foundation NGO.

Thumb sm
Akre2
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurdish children in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee camp play a game of marbles. Before the camp began being used for refugees, it served as a military base and a prison.

Thumb sm
Akre1
Akre
By Mat Wolf
19 Mar 2015

Syrian Kurdish children in Iraqi Kurdistan's Akre refugee camp work on a mural organized by the camp's school and the Rise Foundation NGO.

Thumb sm
Kurdish Forces Clash With ISIS 17
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

PUK Peshmerga fighters move outside a tank during a skirmish against ISIS fighters south of Kirkuk near Mula Abdulla village on Jan. 31, 2015.

Thumb sm
Kurdish Forces Clash With ISIS 15
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

PUK Peshmerga fighters take cover behind a berm while attacking ISIS positions near Mula Abullah village south of Kirkuk on Jan. 31, 2015.

Thumb sm
Kurdish Forces Clash With ISIS 16
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

PUK Peshmerga fighters take cover behind a berm while attacking ISIS positions near Mula Abullah village south of Kirkuk on Jan. 31, 2015.

Thumb sm
Kurdish Forces Clash With ISIS 13
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

PUK Peshmerga fighters rest behind a berm while their comrades attack ISIS positions near Mula Abullah village south of Kirkuk on Jan. 31, 2015.

Thumb sm
Kurdish Forces Clash With ISIS 14
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

A PUK Peshmerga fighter fires at ISIS positions near the village of Mula Abdulla south of Kirkuk on Jan. 31, 2015.

Thumb sm
Kurdish Forces Clash With ISIS 11
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

PUK Peshmerga fighters take position behind a berm during an attack on ISIS positions near Mula Abullah village south of Kirkuk on Jan. 31, 2015.

Thumb sm
Kurdish Forces Clash With ISIS 12
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

PUK Peshmerga fighters prepare for an assualt on ISIS fighters south of Kirkuk near Mula Abdula village on Jan. 31, 2015.

Thumb sm
Kurdish Forces Clash With ISIS 09
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

A PUK Peshmerga fighter takes aim at ISIS positions south of Kirkuk near Mula Abdula village on Jan. 31, 2015.

Thumb sm
Kurdish Forces Clash With ISIS 10
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

PUK Peshmerga fighters march towards the village of Mala Abdulla to attack ISIS fighters south of Kirkuk on Jan. 31, 2015. The black smoke in the foreground is coming from burning ISIS vehicles.

Thumb sm
Kurdish Forces Clash With ISIS 08
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
31 Jan 2015

A PUK Peshmerga fighter looks on as ISIS vehicles burn following airstrikes near Mula Abdula village on Jan. 31, 2015.

Frame 0004
Frontline Peshmerga Offensive South o...
Kirkuk
By Mat Wolf
29 Dec 2014

Responding to an incursion by Islamic State fighters on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk on Jan. 30, Saturday Peshmerga PUK fighters responded by going on the offensive, launching an attack on the ISIS-held village of Mula Abdulla just five kilometers south of Maktab Khaled.

Supported by anti-ISIS coalition airstrikes from A-10 and F-16 aircraft, approximately 600 Peshmerga fighters used tanks, RPGs, and small arms to assault what they estimated to be 250 ISIS fighters holed up in the village.

00 00 - 00 25
PKK Peshmerga fighters supported by tanks and armored vehicles march to the front.

00 26 - 00 38
Tanks and a mobile AA gun move into position near Mula Abdulla.

00 39 - 00 57
With smoking ISIS vehicles and positions in the foreground, Peshmerga humvees and a tank move towards Mula Abdulla.

00 58 - 01 14
Peshmerga fighters taking cover on a berm react to ISIS small arms fire outside Mula Abdulla.

01 15 - 01 28
A Peshmerga fighter outside Maktab Khaled takes aim at ISIS positions in Mula Abdulla.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 2
Egypt, Cairo
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

Street art near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The last three years of political and civil turmoil in Egypt have resulted in a surge of street art and graffiti from a mostly young, politically disenfranchised group of Egyptians.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 3
Egypt, Cairo
By Mat Wolf
21 Mar 2014

Portraits of children painted by the Mona Lisa Brigade in Cairo’s Ard El-Lewa neighborhood. The brigade has shied away from political graffiti in recent months for fear of reprisal.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 4
Egypt, Cairo
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

Close-up of street art critical of the Egyptian military near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The last three years of political and civil turmoil in Egypt have resulted in a surge of street art and graffiti from a mostly young, politically disenfranchised group of Egyptians.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 6
Egypt, Cairo
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

Street art critical of the Egyptian military near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The last three years of political and civil turmoil in Egypt have resulted in a surge of street art and graffiti from a mostly young, politically disenfranchised group of Egyptians.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 5
Egypt, Cairo
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

Street Art from the Women on Walls graffiti collective near Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo. The last three years of political and civil turmoil in Egypt have resulted in a surge of street art and graffiti from a mostly young, politically disenfranchised group of Egyptians.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 7
Egypt, Cairo
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

Street art critical of the Egyptian military near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The last three years of political and civil turmoil in Egypt have resulted in a surge of street art and graffiti from a mostly young, politically disenfranchised group of Egyptians.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 8
Egypt, Cairo
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

Street art on the former American University in Cairo library in downtown Cairo. The last three years of political and civil turmoil in Egypt have resulted in a surge of street art and graffiti from a mostly young, politically disenfranchised group of Egyptians.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 9
Egypt, Cairo
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

Street art near Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo. The last three years of political and civil turmoil in Egypt have resulted in a surge of street art and graffiti from a mostly young, politically disenfranchised group of Egyptians.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 10
Egypt, Cairo
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

Street art with a negative depiction of journalist and author Mia Gröndahl. Gröndahl has published multiple works about Cairo’s graffiti scene, but has recently come under fire for what they perceive as exploitation.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 16
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

Street Art from the Women on Walls graffiti collective near Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo.
Women on Walls, which often just goes by WOW, it is a female street art collective organized by Mia Grondahl, author of "Revolution Graffiti: Street Art of the New Egypt and Tahrir Square: The Heart of the Egyptian Revolution." The group was founded in December 2012. WOW brings locals artists together to create graffiti that focuses on women's issues in Egypt. They recently held their second workshop, which was led by Swedish graffiti artist Carolina Falkholt. WOW seeks to empower women and focus the public's attention on women's issues.

Thumb sm
Streets of Cairo 11
Egypt, Cairo
By Mat Wolf
29 Mar 2014

Street art and graffiti critical of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian military in downtown Cairo near Tahrir Square. Cairo’s street art is constantly evolving, and different artists and taggers will frequently deface, or in some cases add to or enhance the work of others.