Mosul residents sit on the ground on the premises of a mosque close to the front line with ISIS, in Kirkuk, Iraq, where over 500 elderly pilgrims are stuck after returning from the hajj, Oct. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
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Like hundreds of elderly men and women from the Iraqi city of Mosul, Hajji Ahmad left in August to participate in the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.For four weeks, the septuagenarian and some 580 pilgrims from Mosul did their religious duty – each of them obtaining an official ISIS-stamped exit document and a discrete stamp in their passports that reads "Ninevah," the province where Mosul is located, and the year according to the Islamic calendar: 1436 . But nearly two months later, the Mosuli hajjaj, as they are known in Arabic, are desperately trying to get home – blocked by Iraqi and Kurdish authorities near the northern city of Kirkuk who refuse to open a corridor back into militant-held territory.Intense clashes are underway along the route between Kirkuk and Mosul as Iraqi and Kurdish forces fight to recapture territory. Operations to retake the biggest ISIS-held cities, including Mosul and Ramadi, have stalled, with U.S and Iraqi officials acknowledging the likelihood of a prolonged war against ISIS.
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