National Geographic : 2016 Mar
The Other Iraq 117 rushed to meet the militant wave. They threw up scattered defenses along a front line that curved for hundreds of miles along the Kurd- ish frontier, from the Iranian border in the southeast to the Syrian and Turkish borders in the northwest. Peshmerga forces sometimes arrived at battlefields in taxis, wearing tennis shoes and mismatched camouflage, carrying old and untrue rifles. Among those rushing forward was Botan Sharbarzheri. By the time he made his way to Kirkuk, at the head of his unit of college-age volunteers, West- ern nations had backed up Kurdish forces with warplanes. That cover let the Kurds hold off ISIS fighters and then, in places, begin to push them back. Kirkuk was saved, for the moment, and the Kurds became one of the few forces ca- pable of standing against ISIS. Fighting still raged, however, outside of the city, in small, crumbling towns inhabited mostly by Arabs. Sharbarzheri’s unit had been hastily trained and mostly held back from real combat. A firefight here and there, a few selfies taken beside the enemy dead. The young men of his unit said they were happy to cook, wash clothes, do anything for their fighting com- rades, and it was true—though many also dreamed of proving themselves over more than just laundry. Sharbarzheri’s chance came during a chaotic drive into a village called Saiyid Khalaf, south- west of Kirkuk. His unit was behind the main peshmerga group, which was advancing slowly toward ISIS positions. A commander urged his men on, and Sharbarzheri, giddy, holding the rifle he’d bought with his oud, rushed forward behind the cover of an armored truck. One of the ISIS fighters began firing beneath the truck at the legs of the attacking Kurds. A round spiraled through Sharbarzheri’s calf and then burrowed into the leg of another peshmer- ga behind him, shattering bone. Both men fell, and the shooter might have fired again, finished them off, but his attention flicked to other tar- gets. Sharbarzheri tried to stand but couldn’t. He was dragged away, hurried into an ambulance, and soon the Kurds retreated. Afterward, his parents visited him in the hospital. His mother cried. His father was so angry he couldn’t speak. To risk everything, for At a checkpoint near the front line south of Kirkuk, an Arab woman pleads with peshmerga soldiers to allow her family entry into Kurdish territory. Over the past two years Kurdistan has absorbed more than a million people, prompting calls for immigration limits.