Peshmerga on the frontlines.
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region - Relatives of 17 Peshmerga soldiers taken captive by the Islamic State (ISIS) are urging the Kurdish government to agree to demands for their release, and authorities say they are ready for an exchange.
“My son is a prisoner and held by ISIS in Hawija,” said Muhammad Mahdi, the father of one of the captive Peshmergas, as he stood with relatives of 16 other Kurdish soldiers taken prisoner in a surprise ISIS attack on Friday near Kirkuk.
“ISIS is asking for a prisoner exchange,” he told Rudaw.
He said that he and other fathers of captive Peshmerga had spoken to ISIS leaders in Hawija by telephone and that the group is ready to release the Kurds in return for a number of ISIS militants held by Kurdish forces.
“They have not asked for any prisoners,” said Anwar Haji Osman, the deputy Peshmerga minister. “They have only asked us to return the bodies of their dead militants and they have specified exactly what bodies they want back,” he told Rudaw.
“We are willing to give them back not only one, but 10 bodies for one Peshmerga,” he added.
“Our sons are the sons of this land,” said Karzan Sabir, the brother of one of the captive Peshmergas, as he waited outside the Kirkuk governor’s office. “We ask the governor, the president of Kirkuk, to get our brothers home with a prisoner exchange, money or any other means.”
On Sunday, ISIS released the pictures of the Peshmerga prisoners on different Facebook pages. Some of the prisoners’ relatives say they have spoken with their sons via Facebook messenger since their capture.
Members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council held a special meeting over the weekend to discuss ways to secure the release of the prisoners. Relatives worry that if the Peshmerga are transferred to Mosul – ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq – chances for their survival will be slim.
Peshmerga forces have repulsed several ISIS attacks on villages in southern Kirkuk and areas around Gwer and Zumar, killing 253 militants, military officials said.
Pictures from the frontlines show swamps and irrigation canals littered with dead bodies of ISIS militants, many of them foreign fighters, a Kurdish commander said.
Kurdish officials have captured scores of ISIS militants over the past five months of fighting, which may put them in a strong negotiating position for the 17 Peshmerga captured on Friday or any future exchange.