Sashida Sadiq was one of 20 women selected for military service among the 2,800 people who tried to enlist in Dohuk. Photo by author.
DOHUK, Kurdistan Region — The Kurdish Peshmerga’s battle against Islamic extremists is drawing hundreds of female volunteers and persecuted minorities, many of whom are being trained by a unit in Dohuk.
“It’s my duty to defend my country,” said Sashida Sadiq, a police commander from Dohuk. The 27-year old was one of 20 women selected for military service among the 2,800 people who tried to enlist in Dohuk.
Although Sadiq’s role is primarily administrative and logistic, she is prepared to fight the Islamic State (IS/formerly ISIS) and many are proud of her service. Sadiq is single but maintained that even if she had a husband and children “I would fight. The situation is too bad.”
“I’m not afraid of fighting IS,” she said. “My being a women makes no difference. The Peshmerga will be stronger than IS once we get better weapons. I am eager to use those against them.”
In Sulaimania, the Peshmerga has five female reservist battalions, and many of the soldiers are married with children. They have been called to serve since the battle against IS began in June.
In addition, female fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) have joined the war effort and make up 30 to 40 percent of the militias’ fighters. As a rule, they aren’t married.
Serdar Dosky, who leads the 500-strong volunteer force in Dohuk, is proud of the women under his command. But he is equally proud of the fact that of the 500 volunteers he selected and trained for duty, many are ethnic and religious minorities.
“We have some 120 Yezidis who were working as laborers here in Dohuk,” he said. “When they heard what happened to their people in Shingal, they reported to us so they could fight IS.”
Iraq’s minorities do not have militias, which some say has left them vulnerable to extremists in Nineveh province. Most of the country’s minorities have been based in the so-called Nineveh Plains at the eastern edge of the province for thousands of years. Tens of thousands of Yezidis, who are ethnically Kurdish but practice an ancient religion, have been driven from their homes and hundreds massacred by IS extremists since July.
Dosky spent 10 years in the Netherlands and since his return has been active in the largest Kurdish party in region, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP.) He trained the volunteers in handling weapons, but also in military strategy.
“How to raise morale; how to scare the enemy; how to calm civilians,” he said.
The volunteers are popular with the people, he said. They are given discounts in shops, food and water is being brought to the base. Many taxi drivers give volunteer fighters free rides.
Dosky said many of the volunteers are experienced in battle and fought decades ago with party-aligned militia that battled the Baath government and, eventually, other Kurdish parties.
Their experience “eases the public’s fear, and it gives the Peshmerga more support.”
At the moment, Dosky’s unit functions as a back-up force for the Peshmerga, which requires volunteers to sit and wait. Many nights, they are on standby as the Peshmerga fights IS around Mosul dam, only miles from their base. At the same time, they are helping with the relief operation for tens of thousands of displaced Yezidis who fled to the Dohuk region to escape extremist threats.
Apart from Dosky, the unit has another Dutch-Kurd — his brother in law — and one from Germany. Dosky claimed that some Kurds who came to fight are operating outside of the system, however.
“The fact that they come from abroad does raise morale,” he said. “But they are unregistered, unorganized and often operate in small groups. We have no control over them but we do have to monitor them, and that takes away part of my manpower.”
The volunteers who report for duty have to convince their bosses to take time off work.
Sadiq is on leave from the police force in Dohuk. “I don’t think they miss me, but if the war goes on, they will have to join the fight”
Ronny Ishu Mejar, 35, is a Kurdish Christian whose family lives in Zakho and Dohuk. Most of the men are fighting.
Mejar is a laborer who gave up work to enlist despite having a wife and four children.
“This is about my country; I will keep this up for 100 years if needed,” he said, when asked about his lack of income.
“In Kurdistan there is no difference between the people of different religions,” Mejar added. “And IS kills all: Muslim, Christians and Yezidis.”