greetings from the front line: mula abdula

having been to two front lines before, the excitemet of actually seeing the flag of the islamic state was significantly lower compared to that of my company. but still, there was something about the closeness of this front line that even gave me a shiver: the islamic state was only 40m away. separated by one river and two trenches on both sides, this front line has been astonishingly calm for the fact that peshmerga and isis fighters actually see eye to eye in mula abdula. ‘we even used to talk to each other’, one soldier tells me.
but since august 18, according to the leading commander, there have been no more confrontations with the islamic state.

however, even with the situation being stable for now, there is something about the closeness to the enemy line that made me question the risk potential in the peshmerga’s day to day routine on the front even more than before. it is the habit of peshmerga generals, for example, to come together for meals. adhering to the norms of the culture and the military rank, they sit together in one room, aligned by the number of stars on their shoulder patches, chatting about the latest news. apart from the fact that this behavior makes them an easy one-hit target, the thing that captured me even more is the fact that, again adhering to the norms of the culture, they are taking their shoes off as they enter the common area. given the closeness to the enemy and the potential for a conflict eruption at any point, the image of ten to fifteen people rushing out but having to put on their shoes first, makes me wonder about their idea of an hair trigger alert posture. even at a calm front like mula abdula, it strikes a foreign observer as the most strategically unwise thing to do to have all ranks in one room without their shoes on. but i guess this is where culture meets military strategic understanding of situations and the realization that the peshmerga forces, as much as they have a fighting spirit and a warriors heart, are still far away from creating anything like a professional armed force.

another story that fits into my perception of them leading a different understanding of war and conflict readiness is the reaction i received for asking about the structural set up of the front line. depending on the line, i was told that soldiers spend 7 to 10 days on the front. but then i was laughed at when i asked where the soldiers go after they served their days at the front: ‘well they go home of course!‘ it was in the laughter and their easiness about the situation that gave me the impression that their understanding of what constitutes a ‘profession: soldier’ is still far from being put into practice. go home? a professional soldier does not go home for two weeks for having fought on the front line for one. he goes to train and practice. if he is lucky he might go home for a weekend. that’s it. war requires more than weaponry, it requires the art of knowing the technology you are using, as in when to use what and to what effect, and it requires the muscle memory necessary to fulfill the tasks that need to be done. going home to sit with the family to have lunch without your shoes on is not the required muscle memory for times of war.

more than that, following us-american trainings and supersivions, the idea seems to have settled that three month of preparation is enough for a fully fledged soldier to go to battle. in the united states this might be enough for a foot soldier indeed – a) because they have superior technology in all aspects and experts to handle them, so by the time the foot soldier gets on the ground, a lot of things have been fixed already, and b) because they have their special forces, undercover operations and the marines to send in if there is actually a tough ground fight necessary. the kurdish armed force, while equipped with an astonishingly well working intelligence apparatus, the asayish, and some divisions that are actually worth to be considered professionals, mostly within the special forces but also within the spirit of some leaders on the ground, they neither have superior technology nor a division of marines at hand. plus they are not fighting against an enemy in a foreign country off shore but they are defending their own people, families and nation right in front of their door step. and while the spirit they show on the field and their readiness to die for their nation is deeply touching and impressive, three month training of soldiers is not enough for an area that is constantly potentially threatened from all sides, including its own state government in baghdad. particularly since there seems to be the attitude that workout after those three month is something of a voluntary activity that can be conducted half heartedly. so far at least i have not seen a single soldier training or running or even just marching. and while it is charming to be surrounded by smiling and picture taking men on the frot lines, it is only the ones on the watchposts that have enough disciplin to not also join the happy gathering – and that is slightly worrying.

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