Those Who Face Death: Kurdish Army Takes on ISIS
KIRKUK, Iraq -- The Peshmerga is the most cohesive fighting force opposing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Their name literally means "those who face death."
CBN News' Chris Mitchell spent time with them on the front lines in the strategic city of Kirkuk and saw firsthand how they live up to their name.
On the Ground in Kirkuk
The battleground with ISIS includes small villages, such as the one located south of Kirkuk - about a half mile from ISIS forces.
There, CBN News joined the Peshmerga as they worked with district Iraqi police right after a deadly incident: Two bombs were set off, killing two policemen.
Peshmerga forces rounded up suspects and prepared to attack ISIS jihadists.
"We have information that people from outside this village came here to destroy the situation here," Sarhad Muhammed, the Kirkuk district police chief, told CBN News.
Moments after our interview they called off the attack but still took a number of suspects away. Later, at a strategic checkpoint, we found the Peshmerga closely entrenched to the front lines of ISIS.
Soon dozens of Peshmerga and Iraqi police strode past the checkpoint, headed to a village next door on a critical mission: They were conducting a house-by-house search, believing there were people there that may be supporting ISIS.
"Yes, surely, because down at the bridge we saw a teenager. They sent him to do something against us but he hid himself," Ahmed, a Peshmerga colonel, told CBN News.
But instead of just a teenager, the Peshmerga and police uncovered two terrorists -- one from Saudi Arabia, the other from Sudan. Both were on a wanted list.
The two were arrested, along with a number of other suspects and taken away for questioning.
A Strategic Region
In this ongoing battle, the stakes are high, particularly in Kirkuk.
This is a very strategic region. Just a few weeks ago the 12th Iraqi Division controlled this area. When they departed, they left a vacuum for the Peshmerga to fill and now they control some of the richest oil fields in the Middle East.
After June 10, when the Iraqi army collapsed, the Peshmerga stepped in and saved thousands of lives, including many Christians. Many on the front lines expect it will get worse.
"We expect that they want to fight," one Peshmerga officer said. "They would like to attack and fight against the Peshmerga, so we're expecting a bigger war."
Earlier in the day, back in Erbil, the Peshmerga secretary general showed CBN News on his map that now they must defend a 1,000-kilometer border with ISIS - that's more than 600 miles.
They stand in the gap against this fanatical group and face a daunting challenge, but the Peshmerga say they're ready.
"Surely it is dangerous but the Peshmerga are ready to fight," Colonel Ahmed said. "We are ready to protect the Arab, Christians, Assyrians, Turkmen. We are the people of Kirkuk and ready to sacrifice our lives to the last drop of our blood."