Tuesday 20 August 2019

'A most terrifying experience' - Irish backpackers travel to Iraq border with freedom fighters battling ISIS

Ryan Nugent

Ryan Nugent

Two Irish backpackers joined freedom fighters rebelling against ISIS on the frontline in Iraq – mere metres away from where a Kurdistan fighter was gunned down by an ISIS sniper a week previously.

Dublin pair, Will Meara (26) and Craig Reynolds (24) have been travelling the world over the past year, and decided to test the waters in the Middle East over the past two and a half months. They were given the opportunity to see what life was like in the continuous fight against the Jihadist militant group.

Will, from Blanchardstown, told Independent.ie that they wanted to experience what life in Kurdistan regions was like - but never envisaged that they would be brought to the front line in the fight against ISIS.

After meeting some locals in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, they were introduced to a Canadian man fighting with the Peshmerga military group and after a couple of whiskies, were convinced to jump on the back of an army people carrier and be taken to one of the most notorious frontlines in northern Iraq – Daquq.

They were told to dress in military uniform.

Will described the ordeal as the  “most terrifying experience” in his life.

“In the last month alone, three soldiers based in this outpost had been killed by ISIS snipers, the most recent of which being last week. We stood in the very bunker this had taken place,” Will said.

“Drawing back, we posed with photos with the soldiers and high ranking officers when suddenly something spooked our man. We pulled back from the sandbags completely and drew within a small house,” he added.

Despite posing in helmets, with weapons and guns, neither have any intention of joining the fight against ISIS, insisting they’ll be staying for another six days before heading back home to Ireland for Christmas.

Will said: "People are terrified to consider places in the middle east like Pakistan, Iran and Iraq but apart from face-to-face conflict, most of it is completely safe. The people are the most hospitable on earth. Everyone wants to bring you to stay with their family, introduce you to their friends and even restaurants won't let you pay for food they are so happy to have you there! Trying to buy medicine in a pharmacy led to an invite to a wedding."

Craig added: "We never thought that something like this would happen when we left home. It was terrifying but exciting at the same time. I guess its a story for the grand kids. I've really learnt what it's like on the ground and what people go through here. It's not easy yet everyone will meet you with a smile warmer than the sun."

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