Qusay Mahmud Ali returned to find his house north of the Iraqi capital burned, what appeared to be bomb-making material left behind and a noose hanging from a nearby building.
His partially-burned tractor sits in the yard near a palm tree that is charred a shiny black, the house across the road smashed by an air strike or shelling and nearby buildings scarred by shrapnel.
Security forces and volunteer fighters retook the Sherween area of Diyala province from the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, but Ali and others now want government help to repair the damage.
Whether or not such assistance is forthcoming will have a major impact on public trust in the government, and its ultimate ability to maintain long-term control of retaken areas.
Ali and his family fled Sherween some six months earlier, after it became clear that the arrival of IS — which some Iraqi Sunnis initially welcomed as an opponent of the widely-disliked Shiite-led government — was not a change for the better.
“They came and said, ‘We are revolutionaries,’ but later the people learned the truth,” said Ali, a folding-stock Kalashnikov assault rifle in his hand.
“We did not take anything… just the clothes we were wearing,” he said of his family’s flight.
Upon arriving home last Saturday as a volunteer fighter helping security forces battle IS, Ali found it ruined.
The entrance to his house and some walls inside are burned black and the floors of several rooms are covered in broken plaster, with items including dishes and a sewing machine lying among the rubble.
Bombs left by IS periodically explode in the distance, sounding like a heavy metal door being slammed shut, a reminder of a persistent threat that security forces are working to clear.
A separate building where guests were once welcomed has also been burned, with charred and broken benches lying on the floor.
A mobile phone part, wiring and a pile of what looks like chemical materials on the ground suggest it may have been used to construct bombs.
A noose had been strung from the ceiling of the building’s front porch when Ali arrived back, and he said security forces told him that IS had run a court and carried out hangings there.
Of returning, he said: “I came here to this house feeling sorry, very sorry — how will I bring my family here? How will I live?”
“We request that the government compensate these people whose houses were burned, some of them blown up,” Ali said.
Down the road, many more buildings show signs of fires, while a few have been reduced to piles of broken concrete, cement blocks and metal rebar.
Graffiti on walls and buildings praising Shiite militias point to the role they played in the fight for Sherween.
Militiamen drove through a nearby village with the body of an alleged IS fighter hanging out the back of their truck, firing rifles in the air and blaring music as they celebrated.
In Sherween, Sunni militiamen are posted at a roundabout where the air is heavy with the smell of recently-extinguished fires.
Asked about the Shiite graffiti, the Sunnis’ commander Sheikh Wadhah Karim Abdullah said: “Let them write.”
They are all fighting against IS, which “destroyed our houses, took our money, harassed us,” said Abdullah, armed with a holstered pistol and a Kalashnikov rifle.
But Abdullah said his forces needed more support from the government.
“They gave us weapons, ammunition, but not much — it is not enough for us,” he said, also calling for volunteer fighters to be incorporated into a proposed national guard.
And government help is also needed to rebuild houses, shops and other buildings, he said.
“The area is damaged, its houses, our schools are damaged — we just want the government to support us.”