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iraq crisis: kurdistan's female fighter take on isis

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Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have moved into parts of northern Iraq abandoned by the army in the face of an advance by jihadist-led rebels. The BBC's Shaimaa Khalil met members of an elite female unit as they prepared to go to the frontline.

Morning assembly is in full swing at a military facility on the outskirts of Sulaimaniya, a city in the autonomous Kurdistan Region. The troops look serious and focused despite the scorching heat of the Iraqi summer.

Standing straight in their fatigues with Kalashnikovs on their shoulders, this looks no different than any other training camp. But it is the long hair tied back in a bun under caps, and the hint of make-up on some faces, that spells out the difference.

Ready for battle

This female unit of the Peshmerga - the Kurdistan Region's security forces - is undergoing intense training.  Some of its members are getting ready to go to the frontline to fight militants from the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

The unit commander, Col Nahida Ahmed Rashid, says the unit was formed in 1996 to fight loyalists of former President Saddam Hussein.  It is made up of several hundred fighters, all volunteers. Few have seen combat, but many have been telling their commander they want to fight since Isis captured large swathes of northern and western Iraq last month.
Col Rashid says that her female troops have been training daily and are ready.

"They've been trained with SWAT teams and with the special forces. Some have already fought alongside their male colleagues on the frontline and I'm sending others to Kirkuk soon. I was in Kirkuk myself recently."

'Areas of conflict'

The Peshmerga have been instrumental in securing the Kurdistan Region.  Some of its members are getting ready to go to the frontline to fight militants from the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis).  The unit commander, Col Nahida Ahmed Rashid, says the unit was formed in 1996 to fight loyalists of former President Saddam Hussein.   It is made up of several hundred fighters, all volunteers. Few have seen combat, but many have been telling their commander they want to fight since Isis captured large swathes of northern and western Iraq last month.

Col Rashid says that her female troops have been training daily and are ready.

"They've been trained with SWAT teams and with the special forces. Some have already fought alongside their male colleagues on the frontline and I'm sending others to Kirkuk soon. I was in Kirkuk myself recently."

'Areas of conflict'

The Peshmerga have been instrumental in securing the Kurdistan Region.
"I'm very happy - I've been training for eight years for this," she says. "I'm not afraid, I know I'll be defending my land, I'm very excited to go."

Ms Tawfiq is a divorcee and a mother of two teenaged boys.

She spends two days a week at the military camp and the other four with her children.  She says they know she is fighting for a good cause and are very supportive.  Many people in Kurdistan believe the region owes much of its safety to the efforts of the Peshmerga.
Col Rashid says families are quite supportive of the decision of their daughters and female relatives to join the force.

"I have a daughter - she's 10 years old - and when she sees the videos of Isis attacks on Facebook and on the internet, she tells me: 'Please mum, when you go to fight on the frontline, please just take me with you.'"
 


 

Al Arabyia, 16/07/2014

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