‘Iraqi Kurdistan’ – Western Fifth Column in the Middle East, by André Vltchek

New front line in the fog ISIS holding the hills
New front line in the fog ISIS holding the hills

This report is dedicated to Serena Shim. Because both of us, had been covering an almost identical story. Because she is dead and I am still alive. Because she was brave. Because even as she was being threatened, and scared, she did not stop her dedicated quest for the truth, and as long as people like her live, work, struggle and die for our humanity, all is not lost, yet!

***

The weather is gloomy; it is drizzling and heavy fog is covering the entire countryside. After leaving Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq, large and small military as well as police checkpoints appear; like ghosts, on both sides and in the middle of an old, dilapidated motorway, which was built during Saddam Hussein’s years.

There are huge Kurdish flags waving above the checkpoints. Small ones are attached to the bumpers of cars.

“We cannot slow down, unless the guards order us to stop”, explains my driver, as we pass by the mountains of sandbags and the aggressive black muzzles of machine guns. “They have orders to shoot without warning.”

We don’t stop, but I photograph whenever it is possible, even through the windshield.

We are driving on the road that leads straight to Mosul, the city that was taken by ISIS, or as it is known here, in Arabic, Da’ish, in June 2014.

My driver is scared. The entire region is tense and this time even the city of Erbil (also known as Arbil) has not been spared. On the 19th of November, a car bomb exploded in front of the Governor’s office, killing at least 6 people, and injuring dozens. Almost immediately, ISIS took responsibility, declaring their aim to spread insecurity in the Kurdish, which is pro-Western, enclave of northern Iraq.

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