The front line of the fight against ISIS in northern Iraq is manned by Kurdish fighters ranging from the young to veterans who proudly carry the same weapons they used to fight in the Iran-Iraq War three decades before. Mohamad Barzani, 60, says he has spent “40 years fighting. First the Iranians, then Saddam Hussein.” He has been based on this rocky hillside, surrounded by deserted villages and bombed-out houses, for four months. “But we are fighting for something,” he says, pointing to the tattered Kurdish flag positioned on top of a pile of sandbags.
Kurdish fighters like him, known as the peshmerga, will play a role in the attempt to retake Mosul from ISIS, which could come as soon as April, according to an official at U.S. Central Command, to avoid the heat of summer and the holy month of Ramadan, which starts in mid-June. But the Kurds have their eyes on the future rather than on Mosul, a largely Sunni-Arab city that historically had only a small minority of Kurds and is outside the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan.
Black Tiger Camp, near where ISIS fighters threatened the Kurdish capital of Arbil last summer, is the command center for one of the longest front lines in Iraq. “Sector 6” of the front line runs from the town of Makhmour to Gwer and is commanded by Sirwan Barzani, a former telecommunications businessman before the rise of ISIS and a nephew of Kurdish President Masoud Barzani. An intelligent, thoughtful commander, Barzani says he has not been informed by Baghdad or coalition forces of the plan to retake Mosul, which is only about 50 miles from his base. “It’s a political decision, done in Baghdad,” he says.
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