Who Are the Peshmerga Forces of Iraqi Kurdistan?

The Peshmerga are the guerilla warriors responsible for the security of Iraqi Kurdistan. A total of approximately 250,000 soldies call themselves Peshmerga. These brave soldiers played a huge role in securing several territories and oil mines from the hands of the Islamic State. However, the Peshmergas are actually a part of the larger effort to secure an independent nation for the Kurds.

The Iraqi forces are forbidden to enter the Kurdish territory in Iraq by the Iraqi law. Therefore, the Peshmerga and its subsidaries manage the security of the Northern Iraqi-Kurdish territories. The subsidaries of the Peshmerga include Parastin u Zanyari, Zeravani andAsayish. They are formally under the command of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs.


The word ‘Peshmerga’ literally means ‘Those who face death’ in Kurdish. The origin date of the Peshmerga predates Iraq. They started under the Ottomans and the Safavids as a tribal pseudo-military border guarding force. They later transformed into a well trained, guerilla force by the early 1920s.

In the late twentieth century, the Peshmerga got divided into two units. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are those two units. Clashes took place between the two wings of the Peshmerga which led to a civil unrest. In 1998, both the sides settled for a peace agreement mediated by the United States.

Inputs and achievements of the Peshmerga:

From the early 2000s, the Peshmerga has been instrumental in several fights against negative forces. In 2003, they were actively involved in conflict against the forces of Saddam Hussein. Since, 2014, they have been in the cities under their seige of the ISIS. Partnering with the U.S, Iran and other Guerilla forces, the Peshmerga have been able to free several such cities and oil fields.

In October, 2014, they regained control over the cities of Zumar, Jurf-al-Sakhar and Ameriyat al-Fallujah. By the end of 2016, the Peshmerga units along with the Iraqi forces took over major cities like Mosul and Sinjar. They had been aided by the U.S Air Force in those missions.

Role of women in the Peshmerga:

Since its foundation, women have played a key role in the Peshmerga. Majority of the women played supporting roles within the Peshmerga during the Iraqi-Kurdish conflicts. They helped in building camps and took care of the wounded. They also carried ammunitions and messages. Several also served on the front lines.

Notable Peshmerga women fighters include the likes of Margaret George Malik. She was an Assyrian guerilla fighter. In battles like the one in the Zawita Valley, she held leading positions.

The current Peshmerga forces have around 600 women in their ranks. The KDP denied women access to the frontlines since its inception. On the other hand, the PUK began recruiting women in the Kurdish Civil War. Women in the PUK were given a 45-daay military drill. They were taught the use of rifles, RPGs and mortars.

During the Operation Viking Hammer launched by the U.S in 2003 in Iraq, several female Kurdish fighters played a significant role. The operation uncovered a huge chemical weapons facility in Iraqi Kurdistan run by Islamic terrorist groups. It was a major blow to the anti-Iraqi terror forces.

By the end of 2017, Mosul was secured street by street by the Peshmerga. Advancing through villages like Fazlia, the Kurdish forces neutralised the attempts of the weakened Islamic State. The black flags were taken down. The people were checked for potential suicide bombing attempts as well. The Peshmerga vowed that never will the ISIS re-capture Mosul under their vigilance. After this assurance, locals broke out in tears.  

Since then, the Peshmerga and the Iraqi forces have been surveying the Iraqi territories for potential militant attacks. The joint forces are deployed wherever necessary in order to keep the ISIS at bay. The Peshmerga now are catergorised informally as a military force. Since, reports of ISIS gaining strength in Iraq began emerging last year, the Peshmerga is more active than ever.

The Peshmerga Cafe:

In Kurdistan’s Duhok, Metin Cuma started a tea shop honouring the Peshmerga. The walls of the shop are adorned with the photos and belongings of the Kurdish martyrs who fought agianst the ISIS. The owner says that the Kurdistan region owes its freedom and security to the Peshmerga, who sacrificed their blood.

He informed local reporters that visitors from different parts of Kurdistan and even abroad are allowed entry. He wants them to sit there and witness the freedom that they live in because of these martyrs.

The store is like a museum where the clothes, uniforms and the weapons of the Peshmerga martyrs have been displayed. The families of these martyrs often visit the cafe in order to discuss their pride and the hard times they went through. The store also houses several other artifacts from the war against the Islamic State such as boots, uniform, rifles and mortars.

The Martyr’s Teashop has become a popular attraction because of the recognition it gives to the Kurdish martyr’s. It is located right in the center of the Duhok market.

The U.S, Russia, the Iraqi forces and even Taliban are credited to have fought against the ISIS. However, heroes like the Peshmergas never got due recognition from the media in general.

Civilians and the relatives of the Peshmerga believe that initiatives like Metin’s cafe will keep the legacy of the Peshmerga alive for years to come.

It is to be noted that the Kurdish people still don’t have a nation of their own. They are currently scattered across five countries. About 15 million live in Turkey, 6 million in Northern Iraq and 6 million in Iran. Syria is being inhabited by 2.5 million Kurdish people. The number of Kurdish people living in Armenia is unknown.

This might lead to a conflict in the coming years between the Peshmerga and the Government of Iraq. However, because of the presence of a common enemy, the two forces are working together in harmony.