Salma el-Shahed/Who are Iraqi Kurdistan’s ’Peshmergettes?


Who are Iraqi Kurdistan’s ’Peshmergettes?’
By Salma el-Shahed | Al Arabiya News
Tuesday, 19 August 2014
As Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants continue to wreak havoc across northern Iraq, many Kurds are highly concerned and angry because of their gruesome activities, including female members of Kurdistan’s army, the Peshmerga. In light of recent ISIS violence against minorities and women, Kurdish female fighters within the Peshmerga Force for Women have been asking their commanders to send them to the frontline to help combat the extremists, the BBC reported. The existence of these female troops is an “affirmation that women in Kurdistan should be full members of society and not be hidden behind closed doors,” Dr. Joseph Kéchichian, an American scholar who specializes in Gulf and Iraqi affairs, told Al Arabiya News.
“Kurdish men and women have seldom shied away from serving their military duties,” he said. “We are now on the battlefield, but I’m married and I have a daughter, whom I left with my parents to fight against extremists. I’m happy to perform my national duty to defend Kurdistan,” Chelan Shakhwan a fighter in the Peshmerga female regiment, told al-Monitor news website.
In the BBC report, the women are seen chanting about martyrdom while protecting their country.
“The reasons we want to fight ISIS is first, to defend our country, and secondly, to defend women, because in Mosul, ISIS attacked a lot of women,” one of the women told BBC’s Shaimaa Khalil.
A history of the Peshmergettes
Female Peshmerga fighters are not a novelty, according to Kéchichian. “Saladin, one of the most famous Muslim leaders of all time, was a Kurd, he had women fighting along his side,” he said in a telephone interview. Additionally, a paper published by Florida State University in 2005 said women have been fighting alongside their fellow countrymen since the 1700s.
Following the Kurdish Civil War of the 1990s, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan started recruiting female Peshmerga in 1996, making them the first party in Iraq to include women in their military forces.
The Peshmerga Force for Women was first established with the enrollment of 11 women by the PUK. “Since the beginning of their training in 1996, women Peshmerga saw their instruction expand, learning not only military tactics and strategy but also math, computer science, and history,” the paper explained. Today, more than 500 women are part of the Peshmerga and although they are yet to face ISIS, they have gone through military excercises under Sulaymaniyah’s burning sun to prepare themselves for any surprise attacks, as reported in the New York Post.  “The formation of a female battalion is the Peshmerga organizing its various military resources,” Kéchichian said. Kéchichian also found irony in female soldiers facing ISIS, as both sides are Sunni, the “Peshmerga is showing that you can be both Muslim and moderate,” as opposed to the extremist version of Sunni-Islam practiced by ISIS militants.