Welsh photographer Claire Thomas travelled to Iraq to take photos at the frontline
After spending time taking pictures of Europe's refugee camps, Welsh photographer Claire Thomas was inspired to travel to Iraq and the front line with ISIS.
Whilst there, she captured dramatic images of firefighters scrambling to put out an oil fire and save villagers in Qayyara from the fumes.
She also photographed soldiers sheltering from ISIS snipers and keeping watch over no man's land, as well as a tank stood in front of a ruined village.
However, 32-year-old Miss Thomas also made herself popular with the soldiers, taking time out to grab a selfie with many of them.
She said: "Iraq was my first experience of working in a war zone, and being on the frontline was unlike anything I've ever done before.
"It was certainly an intense and surreal experience being so close to the fighting, and at first it was a challenge to suppress the instinct to hide or move away from the danger.
CATERS/ CLAIRE THOMAS
She photographed dramatic images of firefighters in Qayyara, Iraq
CATERS/ CLAIRE THOMAS
Bullets fired by an IS sniper hit a wall close to her
"When we reached the frontline in a small village called Ganus Al Ulya, south of Mosul, I immediately felt reassured when we were greeted by friendly, smiling soldiers.
As we climbed onto the roof of the house, bullets fired by an IS sniper hit the wall just a few feet from us
"After they shared some of their food with us we were directed towards an abandoned house where Iraqi troops were taking aim at IS positions inside the village.
"As we climbed onto the roof of the house, bullets fired by an IS sniper hit the wall just a few feet from us."
Miss Thomas states dramatic moments she experienced and the dangerous situations she was in certainly created a lasting impression on her.
Ancient sites destroyed by ISIS
Thu, December 8, 2016
Daesh terrorists have blown up historical cultural heritage sites in the Middle East. These pictures show the ancient sites in all their glory before they were destroyed by ISIS.
1 of 20
The giant Buddha statues, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 in Bamiyan province
She gives visiting refugee camps and meeting terrified families as a strong example. However, other people's stories also struck a chord with her.
She said: "As we were leaving the smoke-filled town, we had a brief exchange with a young Iraqi soldier at a checkpoint that has stuck with me.
"Expressing his frustration at the involvement of foreign powers in contributing to the conflicts that have plagued his country, the soldier said to an American journalist, 'Tell your country to take our oil. Tell them to take it all and leave us alone. We just want to live a simple life'.
"In terms of photography, the most memorable experience was getting up close to the flaming oil wells.
Miss Thomas made herself popular with the soldiers
CATERS/ CLAIRE THOMAS
She described the visit as a 'intense and surreal experience'
"The photo of the firefighter standing on the brink of the inferno taking a selfie is one of my favourite photos.
"It was an incongruous sight given how close he was standing to the fire – taking a selfie was the last thing I would have expected him to be concerned with.
"It is, however, quite an accurate reflection of my whole experience there – I spent almost as much time posing for selfies with the soldiers and firefighters as I did taking my own photos."
Miss Thomas wanted to be involved in war photography ever since she visited refugee camps across Europe last year, meeting families who had fled from ISIS.
Upon arriving in Erbil, Iraq, she took part in a two-day hostile environment training course, which she recommends to anyone planning on working in the area and credits with helping her in dangerous situations.
She said: "At one point I was speaking to Iraqi soldiers near the frontline in the same village when I heard a loud whizzing sound as a bullet passed close to my head.
"On another occasion I had a very close call when I was standing with a couple of other journalists outside an abandoned house on the frontline in the village of Ganus Al Ulya.
"Without realising, we had been standing and sitting directly on top of an improvised explosive device. A soldier discovered it after we moved away and the wire was exposed. We were unbelievably lucky that it didn't explode."