News / Middle East

    Kurdish Peshmerga Fighters Waiting for Mosul Battle Plan

    Elder Peshmerga fighter and now a volunteer, Omar Mirhan stands with his fellow Peshmerga on a hill overlooking the area of Makhmour which the Peshmerga won back from Islamic State in 2014, March 8, 2016. (S. Behn/VOA)
    Elder Peshmerga fighter and now a volunteer, Omar Mirhan stands with his fellow Peshmerga on a hill overlooking the area of Makhmour which the Peshmerga won back from Islamic State in 2014, March 8, 2016. (S. Behn/VOA)
    Sharon BehnAli Javanmardi

    Makhmour stands on the edge of the divide between the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Islamic State militants.

    From behind the sandbags at the final Peshmerga base, on the horizon you can see a water tower with the black IS banner draped across it.

    “That village,” one Peshmerga soldier said, pointing to a line of houses on the horizon, “is under the control of Daesh.”

    IS fighters are tough

    In 2014, the land the soldiers were standing on was also controlled by IS, or Daesh, as the group is known here.

    It took two months of bloody fighting to oust the militants from the area and regain what the Kurds consider their territory.

    Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga standing near one of the their lookout posts that straddles the frontline against the Islamic State in the area of Makhmour. Makhmour is expected to be one of the staging points for Iraqi and Peshmerga forces to advance on Mosul.
    Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga standing near one of the their lookout posts that straddles the frontline against the Islamic State in the area of Makhmour. Makhmour is expected to be one of the staging points for Iraqi and Peshmerga forces to advance on Mosul.

    At least one village still stands completely empty, it’s walls pockmarked with bullet holes. A large sign to the right of the bumpy road cutting through the houses warned against touching anything.

    IS militants are known to plant bombs and booby trap areas they have occupied.​

    This is a familiar battlefield for Omar Mirhan, at 78 the eldest Peshmerga in the area. According to him, they killed all the IS fighters when they retook Makhmour’s 14 surrounding villages.

    “They do not retreat,” Mirhan said, standing on top of a hill surrounded by his younger fighters, gesturing to the town below.

    Highly respected fighter

    Although retired and now only a volunteer, Mirhan is highly respected by his fellow Kurdish fighters.

    Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers huddle around Maj. Gen. Sirwan Barzani in Makhmour, Iraq. Makhmour is expected to serve as one of the staging points for Iraqi and Peshmerga forces in the advance against the Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul.
    Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers huddle around Maj. Gen. Sirwan Barzani in Makhmour, Iraq. Makhmour is expected to serve as one of the staging points for Iraqi and Peshmerga forces in the advance against the Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul.

    He joined the Peshmerga in 1961, and has fought in every battle since then, including against former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

    Inside his lookout post, Mirhan rolled a cigarette with golden Kurdish tobacco, sipped tea and started to smoke.

    The battle for Mosul, he said, was going to be tough, and he was not sure the Iraqi Army – which fled Mosul in 2014 – was up to the task.

    “Do you want the Iraqi army to take Mosul? Unless American ground troops or Peshmerga go there, I swear to God, they can’t take Mosul,” he said.

    There is little love lost between the Kurdish and Iraqi forces. Their military bases here are separate, and even though Kurdistan is still considered part of Iraq, the Peshmerga bases fly the Kurdish flag and only the Iraqi bases fly the Iraqi flag.

    Cooperation

    Major General Sirwan Barzani, commander for the Makhmour frontline, known as Sector 6, says the forces are coordinating. He met with VOA during a short visit to one of the posts overlooking the town of Makhmour.

    WATCH: Peshmerga Commander Discusses Strategy Against IS

    Peshmerga Commander Discusses Strategy Against ISi
    X
    March 14, 2016 10:52 AM
    Peshmerga Commander Discusses Strategy Against IS

    “There is an operation room, there is a joint operation room between the Iraqi army, the Ministry of Defense, and the Peshmerga ministry and the Americans and the coalition,” Barzani said.

    But a lot more will be needed. Islamic State is a difficult enemy, he said. To take Mosul, Barzani said, airstrikes by coalition forces would not be enough; they would need attack helicopters.

    More weapons, money

    He called for more weapons and ammunition for his cash-strapped soldiers. “I have a maximum of five percent of my needs,” said the general.

    A steep economic crisis in the Kurdistan region, combined with a bitter budget spat with the central government in Baghdad, has meant that salaries for many Peshmerga are in arrears by several months.

    IS is developing new techniques, new ways of of using homemade bombs, it is using drones to gather intelligence and film its attacks, and it is experimenting with chemical weapons.

    Bullets lined up in the gap between sandbags forming a wall protecting the Iraqi Kurdish forces' last military base on the frontline with Islamic State in the Makhmour area of Iraq, March 8, 2016. (S. Behn/VOA)
    Bullets lined up in the gap between sandbags forming a wall protecting the Iraqi Kurdish forces' last military base on the frontline with Islamic State in the Makhmour area of Iraq, March 8, 2016. (S. Behn/VOA)

    “They are dangerous people,” Barzani said.

    Keeping it

    But the real challenge, the Kurdish general said, was not just taking Mosul away from IS, but being able to keep it.

    “You know it is not only a question of pushing Daesh back, you have to hold the land also,” said Barzani. “So I think they need at least 25,000 Iraqi army for this operation, and almost 10,000 Peshmerga.”

    According to Barzani, Iraqi security forces were already moving into Makhmour, an area that lies southeast of Mosul and about 125 kilometers southwest of Irbil.

    But he said it was unclear when and how the battle plan for Mosul will unfold, and what role the Iraqi Shi’ite militia will play in that fight.

    “The plan has changed more than four or five times. So until today we still don't have a final plan,” Barzani said.


    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    March 14, 2016 7:07 PM
    The Kurds have been denied their land by all the armies that have laid siege to it over the centuries. The northern Iraqi province was the only peaceful and prosperous area before IS came. They want to throw out IS and bring back the peace and prosperity.

    by: martin archer from: Scottsdale
    March 14, 2016 9:56 AM
    The Kurds would be quite foolish to move one inch out of Kurdistan on the basis of US promises, particularly since they are not likely to be kept as the US will be getting a totally new government to replace the current government and its senior military officers.
    On the other hand, now is the time to take any part of Kurdistan that has not yet been taken in order to present the new US Commanders with a new reality.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    March 14, 2016 9:51 AM
    The difficulty for the Shia Muslim led Iraqi government to take and hold Mosul is not the taking of it from the Sunni Muslim ISIL army, but trying to hold it from being returned to the ISIL army by the Sunni Muslim citizens and army? .. Remember Mosul was given to the Sunni Muslim ISIL army by the Sunni Muslim army fighters stationed there, and the Sunni Muslim citizens of Mosul? .. And those US armed and trained Sunni Muslim soldiers abandoned all their (American light and heavy weapons) to the Sunni Muslim ISIL army without firing a shot? .. And will they do it again? .. What do you think?
    In Response

    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    March 14, 2016 8:20 PM
    The Peshmerga should open all the flood gates on the Mosul dam until about half of the reservoir has been dumped on Mosul. They will be much easier to beat after they have been waterlogged for a few days. Meanwhile the Italian company can make repairs on the dam.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora