LIVING on the front line in Iraq, observing the war against the Islamic State, is not everyone’s cup of tea.

But for the past three years, while lecturing at a university in Kurdistan (northern Iraq), I did precisely that, living with Peshmerga, the Kurdish army fighting ISIS, or Da’esh as it is often called.

Until 2001 I worked as a part time lecturer at Bradford University and as a teacher in local schools. Living in Bradford since the late 1980s, I was a freelance writer and served as a preacher in a local Methodist church.

But I decided to throw caution to the wind and pursue my interest in travel, research and writing. Since then I’ve visited many different countries including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Pakistan, and written five books about my adventures in those regions.

Iraq and ISIS fascinated me. How could ISIS justify the atrocities it carried out? Why is there so much trouble in that part of the Middle East? Poorly equipped, how were the Iraqis and Kurds responding to ISIS aggression? These were some of the questions that I wanted to answer. Armed with a recording device, pen and paper I interviewed hundreds of peshmerga, from ordinary foot soldiers to top-ranking generals and commanders. I arranged meetings with leading politicians including members of the two main Kurdish political parties: the KDP and the PUK. Isn’t it dangerous, people ask? The simple answer is ‘Yes’ - after all, it’s a war zone.

During my time on the front line I experienced sniper fire from militant sharp-shooters, mortar attacks, even a chemical attack. Fortunately on that occasion the wind was blowing towards the Jihadis, so the chlorine gas didn’t harm us.

Having gained the trust of the Peshmerga I was taken, usually with bodyguards, to places such as Kirkuk, Mosul, Hawija and other areas of intense fighting. At Taz Khurmatu, a town near Kirkuk, the Humvee (armoured vehicle) I and my colleagues were in came under heavy gunfire (mainly from AK-47s). With bullets ricocheting from the sides of the vehicle, and fearing an attack from a rocket propelled grenade, we made a hasty retreat.

A visit was made to Halabja the city attacked by Saddam Hussain’s air force in 1988, when chemical weapons were used, killing over 5,000 Kurds including women and children. Even today, because the water and soil remain polluted, people suffer from cancer related illnesses, and babies are born with deformities.

On the front-line with ISIS I was shown the inadequate medical resources the Kurds have on the battlefield. Many soldiers died from slight wounds because there’s a lack of even basic medical equipment and drugs.

In 2014 ISIS gained modern weapons from the Iraqi army that fled merely on hearing that ISIS was coming. Peshmerga showed me the weapons they have, outdated Kalashnikovs, heavy mounted machine guns and World War 2 tanks with no spare parts to maintain them. Despite this, Peshmerga has been the main force in defeating the Islamic State.

It was interesting to see that a small number of Peshmerga come from the Bradford and Yorkshire area. When ISIS first appeared in northern Iraq in June 2014, mercilessly killing anyone who opposed them, Kurds in Yorkshire returned to Kurdistan to defend their homeland from the invading jihadis.

All my experiences, and a detailed account of the war against ISIS, I wrote in a book, Peshmerga: Those Who face Death (‘Peshmerga’ in Kurdish). Initially published as an ebook on Amazon, it is now released in paperback.

Very little has been written about the Kurdish army. There is no official history of Peshmerga, describing the development and role of the Kurdish army. This book is an attempt to fill that gap. Although the media gives the impression ISIS is destroyed, it is still very active in different parts of Iraq. My book discusses the problems faced by the Kurds in that ongoing war and also in their age-old struggle for independence.

Simon Ross Valentine