Minyar sets aside his walking stick and shakes a can of white spray paint. On a hot afternoon in Kawergosk, a village straddling a Syrian refugee camp northwest of Erbil, the lean 23-year-old sketches a rough target on a bare yellow wall.
Adjusting his gauze eyepatch and donning his aviators, he switches the safety off his Peshmerga-issued handgun. He shoots, but his aim is off.
Minyar is Syrian, a Kurd from Qamishli. He joined the Peshmerga in his teens and fought ISIS in northern Iraq. However, Minyar was not wounded while fighting the terror group.
In the wake of the Kurdistan independence referendum in September 2017, a number of measures were taken to isolate and diminish the government of the autonomous Kurdistan Region. Among those measures was an armed assault on the disputed territories, areas claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds.
It was in one of those ensuing skirmishes that Minyar lost his eye and sustained serious injuries to his face, head and legs. The attackers were Hashd al-Shaabi – a Shiite paramilitia incorporated into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Minyar caught the moment he was hit on camera.
“The camera was still on when I was injured,” he told Rudaw English outside his parents’ home, crisply dressed in his camo fatigues and cherry-red beret.
“Once again another bomb hit me and threw me down to the ground. When someone is injured once, twice and three times, the third time he will yell. It’s neither a shame nor a sin, because you are a human and suffering. I was yelling, telling my friends come to the trench and I was saying bring the ambulance,” he recounts.
Rudaw asked Minyar what kind of support he is getting for his medical treatment.
“Baghdad doesn’t provide any support at all, besides that they attack us from different areas. So how can Baghdad attack you and cure your casualties at the same time? This is a big problem that has to stop immediately,” Minyar says.
“The Zeravani forces always take care of its Peshmerga regarding the provision of medication, hospitals, and financial support. My family as well are taking good care of me, whether it is financially or spiritually.”
After his sacrifices in the war against ISIS, Minyar feels betrayed by Baghdad for turning on its allies.
“Hashd al-Shaabi militias were a stab in the back for the Kurds by the Baghdad government,” he says. “The international allies have given weapons to Iraqi forces to fight ISIS terrorists but they have used these weapons to fight the Kurds.”
World news is a fickle beast. The liberation of Mosul was quickly followed by Kurdistan’s referendum, hostilities between Erbil and Baghdad, and Iraq’s parliamentary election, leaving little space for global outlets to delve into the stories of Peshmerga fighters who fought and survived the ISIS war. The news agenda simply moved on.
Minyar is proud of his service against ISIS, but is still shocked by what he saw during the three-year campaign.
“The Peshmerga were heroes in general, so it is not the effort of only one person. It’s the effort of all Peshmerga of Kurdistan that put brave efforts in this fight. And I think this effort has only existed during World War I and World War II – the ISIS war was the third, which was supervised by the Kurds. And as a Peshmerga of the greater Kurdistan, I was present with huge honor in this war,” he says.
“We have seen things that we haven’t seen in movies, like the way the explosive cars would come, the way snipers would shoot, and you witness your brother or your friends being murdered in front of your eyes.”
Echoing the narrative widely shared by his commanders, Minyar insists the war with ISIS was not about Kurdish national aspirations, but a cause fought in aid of international security.
“I participated in many battles. In my opinion, if the Kurds fought against ISIS for the purpose of independence, they would have declared their state. But the Kurds have not fought the ISIS war for the sake of the Kurdish cause, Kurdish rights, or Kurdish lands. They fought these terrorists to defend human rights all over the world.
“They fought on behalf of countries of the world against these terrorists, so these terrorists would not expand and reach to other countries. This as well was a big morale boost for us. God willing better days are coming. If God blesses us with a longer life, 50 years from now we will remember this as ancient history.”
Although ISIS has lost its urban strongholds in Iraq and Syria, Minyar says the war is not over, and that events in Kirkuk, taken by Iraqi forces in October amid a Peshmerga retreat, may allow the group to resurface.
“I’m not a military analyst, but I sure have a perspective as a soldier. ISIS will come back,” he explains.
Disappointed with his first attempt, Minyar again takes position before his spray-painted target. A group of local boys, drawn by the sound of gunfire, come for a closer look.
Adjusting his aim to compensate for his missing depth of field, Minyar’s bullet finds its mark, just shy of a bullseye.
He’s satisfied for now.