*This post of mine was also published in The Huffington Post.*

The one thing everyone can agree about Iraq right now is that it is a mess. However, in the past week, the US military made tremendous gains against the extremist Islamic group, ISIS. One group on the ground worth singling out are Kurdish military women.

Backed by US airstrikes and Iraqi troops, the female-fronted 2nd Peshmerga Battalion were part of a consortium of forces that helped the U.S. recapture the strategically located Mosul Dam, the biggest blow yet to the radical Sunni group, ISIS.

The ironies here are endless. Not only is ISIS known for their atrocities towards women and minorities, hundreds of whom they abducted and took in as sex-slaves, they even mercilessly slaughtered sex-workers in Baghdad.

Kurdish women have been fighting on the front-lines for their autonomy since 1996. Image Credit: Flickr.
Kurdish women have been fighting on the front-lines for their autonomy since 1996. Image Credit: Flickr.

As with most extremist groups, ISIS is targeting controlling the visibility of women and minorities as a tangible demonstration of their power. The joke then seems to be on them that it is just a matter or time before they face the very sex they deem as inferior on the battleground.

Even better? ISIS militants apparently believe that if their lives are taken by a female fighter, their entry into heaven is denied.

Well, diplomats and feminists can thank the Kurds.

The women Peshmerga of the 2nd Battalion pose for a group portrait after a military exercise. Image Credit: Flickr.
The women Peshmerga of the 2nd Battalion pose for a group portrait after a military exercise. Image Credit: Flickr.

The Kurds were armed last week by Washington as the group becomes an important ally on the ground in northern Iraq. The deepening crisis in Iraq has put the Kurds and the US on the same boat, both determined not to let Iraq fall deeper into the hands of ISIS.

Both parties also, of course, have a vested interest in the fact that the Kurdistan region is home to two large oil fields, generating almost 10% of Iraq’s production.

Right alongside them are Kurdish female guerrillas.

Kurdish female guerrilla fighters are on the front-lines. Image Credit: Flickr.
Kurdish female guerrilla fighters are on the front-lines. Image Credit: Flickr.

The Kurds want to keep their autonomy out of Baghdad’s political power web, and they have a lot to lose, especially the women.

Kurdistan is one of the few Muslim countries where women are allowed to serve in the military and in combat roles. Female guerrilla fighters battle alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga, a fighting force whose name means “those who confront death.”

One soldier who has been fighting with the battalion since its creation in 1996, describes the loyalty she has to defend her people and their land:

Three women of the so called
Three women of the so called “YPJ” (Womens Protection Union, the all female Kurdish militia in Syria), south of the Acity of l-Ma’bada. Image Credit: Flickr.

It’s an honor to be part of a modern Muslim country that allows women to defend the homeland…We enjoy the same treatment as male fighters do, as required by law. 

The US may have wanted to remain in denial that their supposed beacon of democracy in the Middle East, ie Iraq, ended up becoming an Islamic State run by radicals who deny women their most basic human rights.

But nothing could provide better poetic justice than ISIS’ looming face-off against the might of a female-fronted army on the ground as they battle for the soul of Iraq.

From pioneering in the field of mathematics to fighting off Islamic militants in Iraq, women in the Middle East are reminding the world that the best people to liberate them, are women themselves.

*This post of mine was also published in The Huffington Post.

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