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Two days in the life of the Iraqi peshmerga

Alexandra Von Nahmen / groMay 29, 2016

The word "peshmerga" means "one who confronts death." That is what the soldiers of the Kurdish Ninth Brigade do every day. Alexandra von Nahmen visited peshmerga fighters in Dakuk.

Irak Daquq Peschmerga
Image: W. Dardiry

Our vehicle moved slowly past a thick concrete wall and barbed wire and toward a peshmerga military base in Dakuk, Iraq, half an hour's drive south of Kirkuk. The Ninth Brigade's headquarters are located here, just a kilometers from the front lines, where the Kurdish forces are fighting the "Islamic State" (IS).

When we arrived, we were offered tea with lots of sugar. Lieutenant Ahmad Taha received us in the officers' quarters, which measure not quite 20 square meters (215 square feet) and are outfitted with three camp beds, a television set and an air conditioner.

The Bundeswehr taught Taha how to use German weapons at the Hammelburg training base: "G36 assault rifles and then the Milan anti-tank missiles." The peshmerga appreciate the training, but Taha said the Germans had not kept up with the demand for ammunition; supplies are low.

Irak Daquq Peschmerga
The base's bakery is next to the kitchenImage: W. Dardiry

A line for the kitchen grew in the backyard. Rice and beans, the staple meal, were being served for dinner. Right next to the kitchen is the bakery where flatbread is baked for the troops every night. Just as I started filming the first images, a few soldiers reached for their cellphones: Peshmerga fighters are fond of taking pictures with journalists.

Irak Daquq Peschmerga
Taha (in fatigues) said his family calls when they hear that his brigade has been in combatImage: W. Dardiry

'They are worried'

Lieutenant Taha showed me a photo of him embracing his daughter, who is just learning how to walk. His son is 3 years old. "Of course I miss my family," he said. "And they are worried about me. Whenever they hear that we are involved in combat, the phone rings incessantly."

Just a few days ago, his brigade joined an operation to liberate a village called Bashir. The peshmerga fighters had to step in to help Shiite forces. In the end, they succeeded; they drove away IS. However, many villages in the region are still being held by the group.

We stayed overnight and used the first-aid room as our quarters. It is the cleanest room on the base, Taha said, although I was not sure about the toilets and the shower. I ended up sleeping in my clothes.

Irak Daquq Peschmerga
The general had a busy week of love and warImage: W. Dardiry

IS fighter surrenders

General Araz Abdulqadir arrived the next day. His presence immediately raised everyone's spirits. He greeted us and had tea served. Our conversation was soon interrupted by a phone call from the front line: An IS fighter had apparently surrendered to a peshmerga soldier.

The IS fighter looked like a teenager; he was quiet but not submissive while he answered the general's questions. The man said he came from a Sunni village on the front line and had only been with IS for 11 days before fleeing. The man was taken away. His story needed to be checked out.

The night was short. At about 6:30 a.m., a peshmerga officer barged into our quarters. We were told that we could join a patrol on the front line. He told us that suspicious enemy activities had been spotted at daybreak.

We got to the front line in about 10 minutes. On the way, we passed several checkpoints and a mine removal team. Then, a long dugout appeared. It was hot and sticky and my safety vest felt tight. My helmet constantly slipped down. "The IS is located at the place we are going," Abdulqadir said. "Do you still want to come?"

"Well," I said, "now that I'm already here ..."

The front was teeming with soldiers. Three regiments are stationed in this region. The general was receiving information on the latest IS activities. I could see the nearest IS-held village with my naked eye. I started filming. "Be careful with your camera," a soldier said. "There are sharpshooters over there." He remained calm, and I wondered if it was true.

We returned to the military base, where we said goodbye to Abdulqadir. He wanted to go home. His wife had to go to the hospital: In two days, their second child was due.