Middle East Online AIN
ZALA: Kurdish fighters on a
hilltop in northern Iraq use binoculars to monitor the
jihadist-held town of Zumar in the distance, waiting to receive
promised international arms to bolster their forces.
Once home to some 15,000 residents, Zumar is now
held by militants from the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group,
whom the Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga, are battling to
dislodge from northern and eastern areas.
The peshmerga do not attempt to approach the town
due to the danger of both bombs that will require explosives
experts to clear, and militant snipers.
Their main task in Ain Zala is keeping watch,
especially to make sure that IS militants do not attempt to
steal oil from storage tanks and sell it illicitly.
The peshmerga have faced problems due to
shortages of arms and ammunition, lacking combat experience, and
having a vastly larger front to defend after they moved into
areas abandoned by federal troops swept aside by an IS-led
offensive in June.
when they were driven back toward their regional capital Arbil
in a renewed push by IS last month, the United States began
carrying out air strikes in their support, and pledges to
provide arms and ammunition to the Kurds poured in.
Major General Mussa Gardi, who commands peshmerga
forces in Ain Zala, said his troops had yet to receive the
promised weapons, and criticised the decision not to provide
arms to the Kurds earlier.
"If the American and French governments had
helped us with weapons as they helped the Iraqi government, this
situation would not have happened and (the IS) would never have
reached this area," Gardi said.
- 'Property of the Islamic State' -
The Iraqi federal government has received tens of
billions of dollars in arms and training from the United States,
but the same has not happened for Kurdish forces.
"The United States (believed) that peshmerga
units that were not incorporated into the federal military
should only be equipped as gendarmerie, which means only light
armoured vehicles, light artillery and no air defences," said
Michael Knights, a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near
road to Ain Zala, which runs past a lake and between hills, the
atmosphere is surprisingly calm, but there are still signs of
of the Islamic State" has been painted on houses in abandoned
villages that were previously held by the jihadists until the
Kurds began to drive them back.
One checkpoint now guarded by four peshmerga
fighters was painted with the black flag flown by the jihadists,
but has since been written over with graffiti.
As wild geese quietly honked nearby, the
peshmerga guards said they took control of the area in a battle
in which scores of fighters were captured.
Gardi said that the IS militants originally
entered the area, which includes both Kurdish and Arab villages,
without facing resistance.
The Kurdish villagers fled the jihadists, but
were able to come back after the peshmerga regained ground.
Gardi said that Arab residents of the area were
also welcome to return, but that those who cooperated with IS
would be judged.