Iranian Kurdish female fighters battle to fight IS group

FRANCE 24 screengrab

Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Iraq are on the frontline of the battle against the Islamic State (IS) organisation. But for a young Iranian Kurdish fighter and her group, it’s a struggle to join her fellow Kurds in the fight against their common enemy.


Kawsar, a pretty, 24-year-old Iranian Kurd, is a peshmerga fighter. She’s also a member of Komala, a Marxist-Leninist group that emerged after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, which has since adopted a social democratic ideology.

When IS militants swept through swathes of northern Iraq this summer, Kawsar and her comrades left their native Iran to join their fellow Kurdish fighters in the historic battle against the militant Islamist group.

She now lives in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, ready and willing to join the fight against IS. But that’s easier said than done.

Ordered out of an enemy-free zone

On a clear autumn day, Kawsar and her group leave Sulaymaniyah and head toward the frontline line near the oil-rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk. At least that’s what Kawsar hopes.

"They are extremists,” she explains as their car bumps in the direction of the frontline. “I am against any extremist radical ideology, because they don't believe in humanity and in women's rights."

As the group heads closer to the frontline, the Kurdish officer accompanying the Komala group escorts them to a secure zone which has been under Iraqi Kurdish control for the past few weeks.

There’s no enemy to fight here.

“I would love to have a chance to fight them,” says Kawsar. “But it seems that there's no fighting right now…” she trails off disappointed.

Barely ten minutes later, orders from senior peshmerga commanders arrive. The group of Iranian Kurdish fighters is asked to leave the area.

Tehran ties leave leftist Iranian Kurds out in the cold

Spread across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, the Kurds have been described as the largest ethnic group without a state. Over the past few decades, Kurdish history has been littered with bloody struggles against central authorities in Ankara, Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus. But the Kurds also have a history of deadly internecine struggles between rival Kurdish groups.

For Komala fighters, the reason for their exclusion in the pan-Kurdish fight against IS is obvious: Iraq’s Kurdish authorities, in line with the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, are allied with the Islamic Republic of Iran. For Komala, a staunchly leftist group, the government in Tehran is the enemy.

Iran is heavily involved in the current anti-IS fight in Iraq. The secretive leader of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Quds force, Gen. Qassim Suleimani, is believed to have made at least one trip to the peshmerga frontline in Iraqi Kurdistan in recent months. Baghdad is also using Shiite militias closely allied with Tehran in the fight against IS. In this anti-IS coalition, a small group of leftist Iranian Kurds is an inconvenience, not a battle asset.

But Kawsar and her associates are tenacious. They head to another battlefront and bluff their way past checkpoints, telling guards they’re heading to see the area’s peshmerga commander.

‘I finally did it’

At one stage, in the fog of war, as other peshmerga units fire at IS positions, the group of Iranian fighters take advantage of the confusion and join the battle.

Kawsar takes position and joins her fellow Kurdish fighters in firing at IS positions. She is thrilled: “I finally did it. I am so happy about it."

But her happiness is short-lived.

A suspicious senior military officer soon calls them up for questioning.

“Who are you?” the senior officer asks.

“We belong to Komala,” says one of the fighters.

“Oh, I see,” replies the senior officer. “Komala…welcome. You have to go and check with the area commander. You got a car? Just follow me. I am heading there.”

Kawsar knows where this is heading. "They said, ‘don't come again, not until we call you back,’” she tells FRANCE 24. “This is an excuse, I think they'll never call us back because of their political stuff. I don't like politics," she adds hopelessly.

The official stance is that Iranian Kurds are kept aside from combat because "their help is not necessary" – an odd justification considering the enemy ranks are steadily swelling with new jihadist recruits.

Despite her determination, it's unlikely Kawsar will be fighting the Islamic State group anytime soon.

(Programme prepared by Elise Duffau and Patrick Lovett)

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