Kurdish Commanders Face Death Head-On in Iraq

There’s real meaning behind the name ‘Peshmerga’

Kurdish Commanders Face Death Head-On in Iraq Kurdish Commanders Face Death Head-On in Iraq

Uncategorized February 9, 2015 0

On the night of Jan. 30, an Islamic State sniper killed Peshmerga Gen. Hussein Mansor near Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk. For 48 hours, Kurdish forces had... Kurdish Commanders Face Death Head-On in Iraq

On the night of Jan. 30, an Islamic State sniper killed Peshmerga Gen. Hussein Mansor near Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk. For 48 hours, Kurdish forces had battled Islamic State militants who launched a surprise attack on the ethnically-mixed Iraqi city.

A combined force of Peshmerga fighters and an elite Kurdish counter-terror unit were conducting an operation in the nearby village of Mala Abdullah under Mansor’s supervision. Mansor—known to his troops as Gen. Hussein—was near the village when the sniper killed him.

Mansor was the respected commander of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s Peshmerga garrison in the city of Khanaqin. Troops from his garrison also took part in the long battle for the town of Jalawla.

The general and some of his troops went to Kirkuk as reinforcements around the same time Islamic State fighters killed Kurdish Brig. Gen. Sherko Shwani and eight of his men.

At top and above—Hussein Mansor in his office in Khanaqin in July, 2014. Matt Cetti-Roberts photos

During the battle for Jalawla, Mansor was rarely directly at the front. He spent most of his time glued to a busy office in Khanaqin, answering phone calls and trying to get supplies and weapons for the garrison.

Troops frequently rotated from Mansor’s base in Khanaqin to rest before heading back to the front line. Getting equipment was often a struggle. Early in the battle, Mansor’s quartermasters sometimes bribed Iraqi army officers for smuggled tank parts and supplies.

He was well known to media. Mansor’s office was an important stop for journalists who wanted to go out with troops. He was incredibly helpful to War Is Boring in getting access to the front, and he gave candid assessments of the complicated battle.

“The Peshmerga have power because this is Kurdistan, we defend our country and we defend Khanaqin against ISIS,” he said in July.

By late November, the combined efforts of Peshmerga forces and Shia militia fighters from the south drove Islamic State from Jalawla. Now tensions between the Peshmerga and the southern militias pose their own problems.

But the town is, for the most part, secure. When militants surprised Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk, Mansor was free to move with some of the troops to reinforce their comrades.

Ashti Kocher, commander of KDP Peshmerga forces on Mount Sinjar during the siege. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Peshmerga translated into English means “those who face death.” Honor is incredibly important—as is courage.

For that reason, many Kurdish commanders frequent the battlefield and maintain positions close to the front. On Jan. 25, militants killed Peshmerga Gen. Harbo Ahmed on the front line in Shekhan near Mosul.

When the Kurds launched an offensive to retake Mount Sinjar in December while backed by coalition air strikes, they moved swiftly. But the victory wasn’t without its costs. Several senior Peshmerga leaders, many regarded as heroes from the wars against Saddam Hussein, were wounded or killed.

On Dec. 17, the first day of the Kurdish offensive, an Islamic State suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck toward Peshmerga troops near Zummar.

Shekh Ahmed, a commander of Duhok’s anti-terror unit, spotted the truck and drove his armored car to intercept it.

He stopped the truck from reaching its target, but the blast badly injured Ahmed and killed two of his comrades. Ahmed died a few days later.

Some worried the Kurds rushed the counter-offensive. The liberated territory is still littered with boobytraps. But retaking the mountain was both strategically important and highly symbolic—a matter of honor.

When Kurdish lines broke during the summer and the Peshmerga retreated, Sinjar was ripe for the taking. Islamic State moved into the Yezidi enclave with ease. The militants murdered, raped and robbed with impunity.

Many Yezidi felt as though the Peshmerga abandoned them. Even with the mountain liberated and ground supply routes restored for the refugees, many Yezidi remain skeptical of the Peshmerga. They’re still bitter about their lost relatives, and some refugees blame the summer retreat for their suffering.

A few days after Kurdish Regional Government president Massoud Barzani visited Mount Sinjar to give a speech celebrating the victory, a mortar blast wounded Gen. Ashti Kocher.

Kocher was the commander of the Peshmerga detachment the Kurdish Regional government kept the mountain before the offensive—aided by Iraqi airlifts. An Iraqi air force general named Majid Ashour died during one of the flights.

It’s a reminder that this is a dangerous war—for all fighters near the front—and regardless of rank.

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