We see it on tv, we read it on the papers, we hear it on the radio. Another ISIS attack. In Syria, in Iraq, in Europe. Another bombing in Aleppo. Isis, the rebels, Russia, Assad’s army. Truth is, everybody is confused. Most people outside the Middle East don’t know what’s going on. There’s one battlefield and every time it seems like there are more sides to a same fight. Our September Cover Story was graced by Helly Luv, the Iranian Kurdish pop diva and most wanted woman by ISIS who shared the story of the Peshmerga (Kurdish soldiers) with us (you can read it here). This time, we’ve come even closer to the enemy. Face to face. We got in touch with Mike, an Iraqi born Norwegian raised Peshmerga volunteer. Yes, volunteer. He decided to leave the comfort of his life in Oslo to defeat a global enemy: the Islamic State:
I was born in Iraq, but my family and I fled to Norway in the 80’s, due to Saddam Hussein’s oppression of the Kurds. I was just a baby back then and growing up in Norway, I felt more norwegian than kurdish. I bearly knew the kurdish language and culture and I never thought I would ever go back to my country of birth untill the Islamic State decided to wage war against the kurds back in 2014.
Can you tell us about who are the Peshmergas and their current mission in Syria and Iraq?
The Peshmerga are the armed forces of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, also known as KRG. Their current mission is to fight the Islamic State in the kurdish areas in Iraq and to support the Iraqi Army in recapturing Mosul, the Islamic State capital in Iraq, in the near future.
Some of your mates in the battle-field are non-kurds from different countries who have voluntarily joined the Peshmergas, even though they don’t get paid. Many people ask themselves “why do they risk their lives for somebody else’s war?”; you’ve expressed in your posts how the fight against ISIS is a fight of all nations; can you explain this?
I told people that fighting the Islamic State with the kurds didn’t mean I was only fighting for the kurds, but for the whole civilized world, back when I joined the Peshmerga in early 2015. The many terror attacks around the world commited by the Islamic State since last year just goes to prove my point. Many people, especially veterans, feels it makes more sense taking the fight to the enemy rather than wait for them to strike us at our own soil. This is probably one of the reasons there’s been so many foreign fighters joining the ranks of the Peshmerga.
Does your experience as Afghanistan veteran help you?
The fighting in Afghanistan was very different from what I’ve experienced down here. While most of the fighting the norwegian troops were involved in in Afghanistan took place in rureal areas and at long distances, the fighting here have been at closer range and often in more urban areas. But the training I recieved in my former unit, an elite Army unit, have definetly helped me perform better in combat and also stay alive.
Do Peshmergas get support from any government or only small donations from civilians?
The Peshmerga recieves some support from other countries. The US recently paid over $400 million USD in salary for the Peshmerga, which was much needed as the KRG is suffering from an economic crisis and haven’t been able to pay their soldiers for months at a time. Countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic have also supported the Peshmerga with arms and vehicles and several other european countries, including Norway, is supporting with training. This is however far from enough and also one of the reasons the fight against the Islamic State is going so slow.
Is it true that the Turkish army is attacking Peshmergas and other Kurds?
Turkey isn’t attacking the Peshmerga, as Turkey have a somewhat good relationship with the KRG, but other kurdish armed groups, such as the PKK and the YPG/YPJ. The reason for this is that the groups mentioned are fighting for kurdish rights in Turkey and Syria, something Turkey doesn’t look kindly on. They are more afraid of the kurds and their wish for self-governance than the Islamic State, which have lead them to not only allow the Islamic State to operate freely in the border areas, but also to attack the PKK and the YPG/YPJ, who are the ground forces that have had the most progress against the Islamic State in Syria.
How’s a day in the terrorist-hunting battle-field? What keeps you going?
In contradiction to what most people believe, war is actually quite boring. 99% of the time is spent on other things than fighting. I have guard duty on the frontline, I cook, eat, wash clothes, talk with my girlfriend (which is by no means boring), and sleep. But that other 1% makes it all worth the wait. That 1% of pure adrenaline and at times, fear and terror. It can take months between each firefight, as the Peshmerga is currently on the defensive, and you never know exactly when you’ll see combat, as they can litteraly attack us at any moment. It’s been like that for almost two years now, but the Peshmerga is expected to go on the offensive in the coming weeks, to take back Mosul from the Islamic State, so I’ll definetly get to experience more of that 1% very soon. And I’m going to be honest and admit that that 1% is what’s driving me the most.
Do you believe that ISIS has its days numbered?
ISIS as a military power have definetly it’s days numbered. However, after loosing Mosul, Raqqah and their other cities, they will go back to be what they used to be, which is a terrorist group that will be involved in asymetric warfare, terror attacks, crime etc. They might even change name and rebrand, but it will be the same guys committing the same horrendous acts, just on a smaller scale. So I see ISIS beeing destroyed completly anytime soon.
Do you ever fear for your life?
I usually don’t spend time fearing for my life or thinking “what if” – I’ve had to put away those thoughts and feelings for later, as I wouldn’t function properly down here if I hadn’t. I’m fully aware those thoughts might turn up on a later point, even years after I’m done fighting, and that they can lead to issues, such as PTSD. But I’m pretty robust mentally and I’m sure I’ll be fine and that I can handle whatever that’s waiting for me.
Do you have support from your loved ones or do they ask you to come back home?
My family is always trying to convince me to come home, but they also understand my choice and shows support. My girlfriend have been pretty amazing in all of this. The last 20 months have obviously been hard on our relationship, but she still supports me and respects my work. Honestly, I didn’t think it would last, but move conqures all, I guess.
Do you ever think of giving up and going back to your “comfortable” life?
All the time. But my dedication won’t allow me.
I believe the open door migration policiy is a mistake that we will have to pay for sooner or later. The approach is all wrong. Instead of solving the problem at the source, which is in the Middle East, we are importing the problem to Europe. The international comunity should prioritise to end the wars and the corruption that are forcing people to flee rather than opening our borders.
What advice do you give to citizens of countries like France or Germany who have suffered the worst ISIS attacks in Europe?
Do you think that muslims around the world do have a responsibility in the fight against Islamic terrorism as insiders, such as making sure imams aren’t preaching hate and calling for hijad and helping to remove the hate towards non-muslims from members of their communities who have been brainwashed?
Yes, definetly. Muslims need to stop victimizing themselves and start looking into why their religion is causing so many people to commit violence in Allah’s name. Islam needs a reformation, like Christianity had in the 16th century, and this can only come from within.
How can we help you from home?
You can support my cause by spreading the word about my work. You can also give me financial support by contacting me online or visiting my website.
I’d like to end this interview with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – maybe it wouldn’t be need for my skills down here if we all would try to live by these words.
MIKE SHARES REAL FRESH PHOTOS AND FOOTAGE STRAIGHT FROM THE BATTLE FIELD OF THE WAR AGAINST ISIS, A WAR THAT AFFECTS US ALL. IF YOU WANT TO SEE IT ALL, KEEP UP WITH MIKE: