Stream of foreign fighters moving to Iraq to tackle jihadis
Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30
On Iraq's northern front, a marksman with the Kurdish Peshmerga looked down at the body of the dead Isis fighter, examining his weapon with keen interest. It was not just an unusual find on these front lines, a submachine gun dating from the Second World War, but it had also been curiously decorated by its previous owner, with pieces of what looked like human bone.
"It had a piece of spinal cord for a forward grip," said the marksman, an American ex-soldier volunteering with the Kurds to fight Isil. "If that doesn't sound satanic then I don't know what does."
Scott, who asked for only his first name to be used, joined the Peshmerga after watching the war unfold from his home in Minnesota.
Foreign fighters have flooded to join the extremists in Iraq and Syria, to the consternation of their own governments back at home, but now men like Scott are beginning to arrive to fight against the extremist group, despite an ambivalent reception from Kurdish officials, who say that what they need is more guns, not more men.
"I was disgusted with what was going on," said 30-year-old Scott by phone from his position half a mile from the Isis lines. "I watched the numerous beheadings and heard about them enslaving women and raping them. I thought that all the Americans who previously fought in Iraq here were in danger of having done so in vain, so I decided to do something about it."
Some of the dozen or so volunteers with the Peshmerga arrived with little or no military experience but most are veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, who struggled to adjust to life at home.
The official Kurdish position is that foreigners are not allowed on the front lines against Isil. However, foreigners have in fact joined Kurdish groups and Christian militias fighting Isil in Iraq and Syria, although an accurate estimate of their number is hard to come by.
At a Peshmerga base on a different front also popular with volunteers, Colonel Tariq Ahmed Ali's phone is bleeping with messages from men in the US and UK, eager to join up. There are already 16 fighters mostly from the US and Canada volunteering with him, although many of them are now on leave. Potential recruits contact volunteers who have already made the journey, or reach Col Ali via Facebook, and are passed on by him to the Kurdish ministry of Peshmerga.
Col Ali said the volunteers were brave and had come under Isil attack alongside his men, sharing ammunition and sustaining shrapnel injuries, but he still has reservations. "I think some of them have problems back home and the other half is here to collect information," he said.