Landing in Erbil, northern Iraq, it is hard to imagine there is a war going only two hours from the city. We would soon be leaving Iraq and heading into Syria, linking up with the YPG—a Kurdish protection unit. They’ve stood up to the brutal forces of the Islamic State (Daash/IS/ISIS/ISIL) and battled hard with them in places like Kobane.
One of the things my buddy and I were talking about prior to our arrival was what weapons we would get, and what kinds were being used on both sides. As we waited for our pickup to take us deep into northern Iraq, we joked about getting some busted old AK and 10 rounds of ammo.
Soon we were on our way outside of the city and into the mountains. It amazes me how beautiful this part of Kurdistan is as we make our way off the main road. Across a river, well off the beaten track, we got a look at our first weapon. Go figure, it was an old busted AK-47 (7.62x39mm) from the ’60s. A young Kurd carried it. He looked very happy to see us and led us up the hill and into camp for the night.
The next day, we headed to the centre of the camp for something to eat. We were greeted this time by a few Kurds. While getting some food, one guy pointed to a hill behind us. “Boom boom,” he said. An English-speaking Kurd told us there was a Duska (DShK 1938) mounted on the hill. “Okay,” we said, looking at each other and thinking, “I just want to get out of here.” Later that day, we mounted up in a Toyota 4×4 pickup and headed for the Iraq/Syrian border.
Before we got to the border, we stopped off at one more camp to collect supplies and wait for the cover of darkness. Here, we loaded the trucks with ammo crates (7.62 mm). I remember seeing a guy with an RPK on his back. One of the drivers had some sort of pistol, though it was too dark to see what make or model. Later that night, we loaded a mortar tube and base plate into the pickup—most likely an 82mm. Things were looking a little better, and I was thinking maybe we would get equipped with something half-decent after all.
Deep in the night, we loaded up and made for the border, creeping around the back roads and off the main routes. We got to a Peshmerga checkpoint and were told to keep our heads down. We rolled past them and headed off into the dark once again. Soon after, we reached a river and were told to get out and help unload the truck. In the distance, we could hear voices. Soon after we finished, we heard the noise of a RHIB making its way toward us. There were two Kurds on board.
They loaded the RHIB with everything first, then came to get us at the end. I will never forget looking back across the river and seeing the lights of a UN refugee camp in Iraq. I looked forward to seeing nothing but total darkness in Syria. That moment made me realize how small I was. From there, we made a two-hour journey to another camp.
Off to the armory
We were told to rest the night and talk tomorrow. We all got our heads down for the night, eager to see what tomorrow would bring. The next day, we were up and in some meeting with the Kurd commanders. After that, it was off to the armory. I remember looking in and seeing a lot of different weapons in there, things like AK-47s, RPKs, Dragunovs, PKMs, RPGs, M16s, M14 carbines, and if I remember correctly, three or four G36s. Please let me get one of them, I thought. No, I got an old AK-47. To be fair, it was in great condition. One lad got a M16. The rest of us received AKs with only five magazines. Can’t really say I was happy about that, but at that point, it was better than nothing.
We rolled out that day to our FOB and met up with other guys there, all carrying the same weapons: AK-47s. In the FOB, we had a DShK mounted to a pickup and one more mounted to a flatbed truck. Inside, I saw guys with PKMs, RPGs, Soviet grenades, and Dragunov sniper rifles.
While in a meeting with the (PB) commander, he told us that they were in procession of some tanks waiting at the border—M4 Shermans, according to the Kurd commander. A couple of days later, a few more Kurds arrived carrying some gucci AKs with rail systems, forward grips, and M4 stocks. We were back at HQ one day when a guy told me he had a Skorpion submachine gun. I was like, “No way! How has this guy got that?”
We took a walk to the car and he pulled it out. Now, here I was thinking of the new 9mm CZ Scorpion Evo 3, right? Stupid, I know. He pulled out a CZ Skorpion VZ-61, a cold-war relic with a 20-round magazine filled with anemic .32 ACP rounds. I was just like, “Cool bro.” The last thing worth mentioning is one of the Kurds we were with had some kind of pistol with Iraqi marks on it, and I’m sure it was Saddam’s face plastered on the grip. All in all, it’s about what you would expect to find in this region of the world.