Kurdistan is the only autonomous (self-governing) region in Northern Iraq — a democratic oasis in the center of hell, surrounded by hostile neighbors in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey. Since the Kurds are not technically governed by Iraq, the Iraqi military is prohibited from entering Kurdistan to defend the region. The Kurds are on their own.
The Peshmerga — literally “one who faces death” — are Kurdistan’s military forces. They consist of loosely allied groups of former guerrilla units, men and women, defending against incursion, fighting for Kurdish independence. In 2014, ISIS mounted a major offensive against Kurdistan. The Peshmerga beat back the jihadis, and then brought the fight to ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Despite being on the same “team” as the Iraqis, Iraq’s fears of Kurdish independence have mooted any transfer of arms, ammo or equipment to the Kurds. In the main, the Peshmerga rely on scavenged arms and material from vanquished foes. Whether by necessity or choice, the Peshmerga are known for not taking prisoners and razing captured Arab villages to the ground.
The U.S. military operating in these conflict zones look to the Peshmerga to assist them with intelligence, support and combat. Many of our soldiers who’ve worked with the Peshmerga call them brothers.
Some formed bonds so strong that they returned to Kurdistan after they completed their service to fight alongside the Peshmerga. Vets like “Waco” . . .
I first saw Waco on Instagram where he posts pictures of his life in Iraq as a Peshmerga soldier. Through a multitude of photos with Iraq as the backdrop the young vet beams patriotism for his country as well as respect for the Iraqi men he now calls brothers. I became curious to find out why this fellow Texan would embark on such a journey. Here’s what I found on Facebook . . .
I’m American through and through. I’ve fought for our country and bleed red, white, and blue…but do not mistake me… I am a Texan first. I am proud to be American, blessed to be a Texan. When people here in Iraq or from other foreign lands ask me what I am, my first response is always Texan…trust me they’ve heard of us.
More Texans join the military than any other state, it’s not just our pop numbers it’s our heart, our desire to serve, and fight. As Texans we are fighters to our core. America was built by rebels and fighters, Texas was built by the top 1% of those fighters, and that attitude carries on. ***A convo that I had w Europeans earlier, trying to explain why most of the American fighters they meet are from Texas.
The German AK-47 is Waco’s weapon of choice; he considers it the most reliable platform for the job at hand. He also reckons it’s his least expensive option, setting him back around $450 without attachments. And ammo is cheap. He uses an ACOGs and iron sights.
Waco’s team uses a variation of the DShK 1938 in 12.7mm, 14.5 and 23mm — a heavy machine gun to put down ground fire when necessary. He also has access to a recoilesss rifle, Panzerfaust 3 and an RPG-7.
Waco reports that ISIS uses similar weapons. As there’s a high demand for firearms collected from the recently deceased, the unspoken “law of the land” is that the gun remaining after a kill is not yours until you have physically touched it. Of course, its not always safe to remove the weapons.
Dedicated gun thieves collect weapons and sell them back to ISIS. ISIS also uses handmade grenades made out of water bottles, larger IED’s, VBIED’s and homemade rockets. It’s rumored that ISIS has a few Abrams tanks captured from the Iraqi army (supplied by the US government). Thankfully, Waco has never seen them in action.
How difficult is it to join the Peshmerga? It’s a price you may very well pay for with your life — even before you ever get enlisted. According to Waco, he bought a plane ticket and took that plunge. He says he was fortunate enough to end up with one of the most respected Peshmerga units, led by General Wahid Kovley. It’s nicknamed the “Black Devils,” a name given to them by the Daesh.
Waco lives on the frontline, he says “Daesh is 3km from us and we almost daily get something, whether it be mortars, heavy machine gun fire, homemade rockets, chemical attacks or a variation of all those combined.”
As I learned more about his mission, his sacrifice and his need I was saddened. There aren’t many people interested in supporting this cause. The idea of Kurdistan and rebel forces far away just doesn’t seem to hit home to most of us.
It did, however, hit home to Waco who left the comfort of his Texas home and family to fight a war against an evil force killing innocent men, women and children. A force spreading their poisonous ideology into the U.S., inspiring terrorist attacks in The Land of the Free.
Waco may never receive a medal, recognition or respect for what he’s doing, but that doesn’t matter to him. I asked him why he decided to join the Peshmerga. “I can remember sitting down reading article after article about the atrocities committed at the hands of Daesh (ISIS) and thinking to myself fuck that shit! I need to be there! I have the experience, the training and the heart to do it.”
I asked Waco what he missed the most about Texas. “Honestly, I miss pork the most, more specifically bacon. I miss the Texas summers floating down the Guadalupe with my friends and drinking a cold beverage.”
When I asked him if he would ever come back and live a regular life, he said “Those things will be there when I get back, they are enough to make me miss them but not enough to make me pack up my bags and go back”.
According to Waco it’s extremely hard to join in with a Peshmerga unit that is actually on the frontline. Many are suspicious of outsiders and they are scared to let westerners on the front, in fear that it may lead to bad publicity or backlash from the U.S. government.
As he told me,
It took me a long time to gain the Kurds’ trust and prove that I was a capable soldier who had what it took to endure life on the frontline. A lot of guys aren’t as lucky as me or the handful of others that got to the frontline. Most guys get stuck in the rear with support units never seeing any action. It’s even harder now since the U.S. gave the Kurds $400 million plus in aid.
My advice to anyone wanting to come out here to fight: don’t…unless you’ve been with the Pesh before and you have those contacts. Otherwise you’ll be throwing your money and time away, and trust me it is very expensive to be an unpaid soldier on your own dime.
He says he’s witnessed many men try to join and only last a week or a month, unable to endure the harsh conditions they live in since they aren’t supplied by the military. How do American fighters cope? “You have to be able to embrace the suck.”