Farhad Nezar Kakai, 48, gives order to his troops Kirkuk province on August 18. Nezar is commander of the First Kakai Battalion of the Kurdish Peshmerga. Photo by Farzin Hasan (Rudaw)
DAQUQ FRONT, Kirkuk – Farhad Nezar Kakai gazes at the black flag of the Islamic State which is flying less than a kilometer from his base, and he wishes for two things: better weapons and the go-ahead to recapture two nearby villages, one of them where he was born.
Nezar is the commander of the First Kakai Battalion of the Peshmerga, a 630-strong force made up entirely of members of the Kakai religious minority. Since the ISIS onslaught last year, the Kakai have fought to protect their ancestral lands along the Daquq frontline, roughly 30km south of the city of Kirkuk.
The 48-year-old Nezar is tall, gregarious and, like all Kakai men, sports a tremendous mustache. When ISIS launched its brutal attack last year, he urged the Kurdistan Regional Government to establish the Kakai force to defend the minority’s nine villages in Kirkuk province from the jihadists’ blitzkrieg.
“After the catastrophe of Shingal, we felt that same thing could happen to Kakais,” Nezar told Rudaw, referring to the massacre of thousands of Kurdish Yezidis in August 2014 which ISIS justified because, like the Kakai, they victims were of a pre-Islamic faith.
Even so, five months after the all-Kakai force was established Nezar and his Kakai Peshmerga still worry about the survival of their people. The Kakai, also known as Yarsans in Iranian Kurdistan, are a religious group whose followers have lived in areas of Iraq and Iran for thousands of years.
Kakai guards scan the perimeter of a Peshmerga base in Zangar village, less than a kilometer away from ISIS positions. The Kakai fighters were formed into their own Peshmerga battalion in March in order to better protect their homes and villages. Photo by Farzin Hasan (Rudaw)
Before ISIS forces charged towards Kirkuk, an estimated 360 Kakai families lived in the villages around the town of Daquq. The number of Kakai still living in the area is uncertain. In the village of Zangar, however, of the 75 families who resided there before the attack, only four remain.
“Our Kakai villages are the last point of the Kurdistan’s border with Daesh. Our volunteers have been fighting along with Peshmerga since the beginning, but then we knew we needed to have our own official battalion,” said Amanj Kakai, a Peshmerga officer, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
The Peshmerga base Nezar commands in the area has seen some of the toughest fighting along the 700km of frontlines the Kurdish region defends against ISIS. The Kakai fighters claim they need more support to continue to off the near nightly attacks.
“We are fighting with the oldest and worst Kalashnikovs. Some of them have been repaired few times. Some have been made using parts of other guns, so they suddenly seize up while you are shooting,” said Kakai, as he cradled an old Kalashnikov automatic rifle in his hands.
The Kakai battalion needs at least 200 modern guns to strengthen its forces against the Islamic States elements hiding in nearby villages.
“I have no doubt that all other Peshmerga battalions more or less have received a number of advanced guns, but we haven’t even received a single one,” Nezar said. He added his battalion only received two tank-mounted anti-aircraft guns, and one of them is not functioning.
A Kakai Peshmerga crouches during a training session in Zangar village on August 18. The all-Kakai battalion has complained of being issued weapons that are tool old to be effective against ISIS. Photo by Farzin Hasan (Rudaw)
Jabar Yawar, official spokesman of the Ministry of Peshmerga, admits the lack of advanced weapons has been a setback all along the frontlines. He denied any discrimination against the Kakai battalion.
“The weapons we are giving to all forces and battalions in Kurdistan are those that we have in our storerooms. We are not receiving new guns from the [international] coalition. The weapons we have been given by foreign allies are old and those that the coalition states no longer use in their own armies,” Yawar told Rudaw.
“We don’t have a factory to make new gun.”
The loss of the two Kakai villages - Albu Muhammad and Shukr Jairan - also rests heavy in the hearts of Nezar and his battalion.
When ISIS took control of the area, most of the Kakai who lived in the villages’ 50 or so homes managed to escape. Peshmerga forces, aided by the Kakai, were defending the villages when the order came from Erbil to withdraw from the area.
“The two villages were lost to ISIS without even shooting a bullet,” said Nezar, whose family home been in Albu Muhammad for many generations.
“Now, Daesh stays in our houses, shelling us from Albu Muhammad, which is a very strategic area due to its high hill,” he added.
Nezar said a committee came with a map of the Kurdistan region’s borders that no longer included Albu Muhammad and Shukr Jairan. He said the Kakia forces expressed their concern and asked the committee to resolve the problem.
“Until now we have no idea why the ministry decided to leave our villages,” Kakai said.
Yawar, with the Peshmerga ministry, said Kurdish military leaders have never authorized a withdrawal from any Kurdish territory. He said in order for the battalion to consider retaking the villages, Kakai commanders need to visit the Ministry of Peshmerga and meet with officials in the operations room.
“We consider the Kakais as a significant part of the Kurdish nation and we will fight until all Kurdistan’s territory is liberated,” Yawar said.
Still, inside the Kakais bases at Topzawa optimism was mixed with apprehension. Despite the Kakai’s success on the battlefield, there is a fear for their future. Nezar has promised to retake the two lost villages.
“Our will to destroy Daesh is the greatest weapon we have in this war,” he said.