Months after internationally backed forces wrested back the last territory of ISIS’s once sprawling proto-state in Syria, ISIS is regrouping in a stretch of disputed territory in Iraq.
On this week's Beyond the Headlines, The National's Deputy Foreign Editor Jack Moore and Video Journalist Willy Lowry travelled through the Kurdistan region of Iraq to outposts where local Peshmerga fighters are standing guard ready to repel an assault.
Although you can practically toss a stone from the sandbag wall above the no-man’s-land ISIS fighters now inhabit, the fighters won’t go in.
The reason? A two-year running rift between Erbil and Baghdad sparked by the attempt to hold an independence referendum on a Kurdish state.
While the US carries out regular air strikes against fighters who have dug extensive cave networks into the rugged terrain that separates Iraqi forces from the Peshmerga, local commanders and the powerful Kurdish spy chief, Lahur Talabany, say that thousands are regrouping, planning and waiting. These diehard fighters, the core of the infamous group who have stayed loyal despite the loss of territory and the death of their leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in October, are heavily armed and well trained.
“It is useless for me, I cannot lose my Peshmerga for nothing. You see the area,” says Col Barzanji, an edge of frustration in his voice when he says why his men are not pushing down the steep hills from their command posts to fight the ISIS militants in close quarters.
The Peshmerga forces have lost more than 2,000 fighters and had more than 10,000 wounded in the battle against ISIS.
If you missed last week's episode, where Beyond the Headlines asked how many people is too many when it comes to climate change, check it out here.