INTERNATIONAL REPORT Female Kurdish soldiers on the front line
Hundreds of women are joining Kurdish armed forces to avoid forced marriage to Islamic State troops. Who are these brave soldiers risking their lives to remain free?
LAYING LOW BEHIND SANDBAGS, a manicured nail on the trigger, Ranguin is on the lookout for an invisible enemy. A long braid snakes along her dusty uniform. The horizon in front of her is evaporating in the choking midday heat. In this advanced combat outpost, at the heart of a plain as ide as a desert, uiet isn t al ays good ne s. After erce battles against the men of the Islamic State (IS, or Daech in Arabic), the Kurdish forces managed to advance their positions, little by little, until they regained control of the Jalawla region, a key area located about 130 kilometres from Baghdad.
or the past week this mi ed battalion of about 30 soldiers a liated to the atriotic Union of Kurdistan – one of the two main parties in this autonomous region of Iraq – has been holding the position, waiting for the heavy artillery that was promised but is long coming. It’s been a week of battling heat, weariness and an adversary that is both close and volatile. ‘We hear them at night on the radio frequencies,’ says Ranguin, the skin on her face cooked by the sun. ‘They say: “You bitch, if we catch you, 25 of us will have our way with you, and then we’ll mail your head to your mother in a parcel”.’ This doesn’t scare this 29-year-old peshmerga (a Kurdish word that means literally ‘those who go beyond death’) who has spent the past 13 years ghting the war. To her, the combat she is currently engaged in is the most important one in her life.
The 15 warrior women present on the front that day agree. They say they’re all ghting to preserve the Kurdish e ception the ‘last outpost of freedom’ in a region on the verge of collapsing into Islamism – whose realm runs from the suburbs of Damascus to the outskirts of Baghdad. In the struggle to limit the so-called caliphate’s expansion the
peshmergas are convinced that they o er quite an added value. ‘The Islamists are more afraid of us than they are of our brothers. They believe that if they are killed by a woman, an “impure” being, the gates of heaven won’t open for them,’ chuckles Ranguin.