A group of young women took up arms against the self-styled Islamic State when the militant group attacked northern Iraq in 2014.
A group of young women took up arms against the self-styled Islamic State when the militant group attacked northern Iraq in 2014.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

Meet The All-Female Combat Unit Taking Revenge On ISIS In Iraq

"I saw them raping my Kurdish sisters and I couldn't accept this injustice," their commander says.

NAWARAN, Iraq (Reuters) - When Islamic State swept into the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar in 2014, a few young Yazidi women took up arms against the militants attacking women and girls from their community.

"They took eight of my neighbors and I saw they were killing the children," Asema Dahir told Reuters last month at a checkpoint near a front line north of Mosul.

Dressed in military fatigues, the 21-year-old is now part of an all-female unit in the Kurdish peshmerga forces, which have played an important role in pushing back Islamic State in northern Iraq.

Now they are part of an all-female unit in the Kurdish peshmerga forces, comprised of women from Iraq's minority Yazidi community as well as Kurds from Iraq and Syria.
Now they are part of an all-female unit in the Kurdish peshmerga forces, comprised of women from Iraq's minority Yazidi community as well as Kurds from Iraq and Syria.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

The killing and enslaving of thousands from Iraq's minority Yazidi community focused international attention on the group's violent campaign to impose its radical ideology and prompted Washington to launch an air offensive.

It also prompted the formation of this unusual 30-woman unit made up of Yazidis as well as Kurds from Iraq and neighboring Syria. For them, only one thing matters: revenge for the women raped, beaten and executed by the jihadist militants.

Dahir said she was stunned by the brutality of the militants, some of whom were neighbors and others from outside the area.

"They killed my uncle and took my cousin's wife who had only just married eight days earlier," she said, her piercing eyes clouding over. The bride, like thousands of other Yazidi women, is still being held by the militants.

For matching Wider Image pictures, please click on: http://reut.rs/1SNahZe

The women say they are taking revenge for the women raped, beaten and executed by the jihadist militants.
The women say they are taking revenge for the women raped, beaten and executed by the jihadist militants.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Asema Dahir, 21, says she is stunned by the brutality of the militants. Here, she keeps guard during a deployment near the frontline of the fight.
Asema Dahir, 21, says she is stunned by the brutality of the militants. Here, she keeps guard during a deployment near the frontline of the fight.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

During the firefights that raged across Sinjar in 2014, Dahir said she killed two Islamic State fighters before being shot in the leg. Reuters could not independently verify the fighters' personal accounts.

Well-worn photographs of children and families tucked into the edge of mirrors or pressed onto walls in the women's spartan barracks are reminders of what they have sacrificed to join the fight.

Haseba Nauzad, 24, had been living with her husband in Turkey before she returned to Iraq to fight ISIS.
Haseba Nauzad, 24, had been living with her husband in Turkey before she returned to Iraq to fight ISIS.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

Haseba Nauzad, the unit's 24-year-old commander, lost her marriage. She was living with her husband in Turkey when Islamic State swept through northern Iraq and announced its so-called caliphate over areas that included traditional Kurdish lands.

"I saw them raping my Kurdish sisters and I couldn't accept this injustice," Nauzad said.

Her husband wanted to pay human smugglers to take them to Europe along with more than a million others fleeing conflict in the region, but she insisted on going home to fight the Islamists.

"I put my personal life aside, and I came to defend my Kurdish sisters and mothers and stand against this enemy," she said. She has lost contact with her husband since he arrived in Germany.

The women say gender does not keep them from entering the battle against the militants.
The women say gender does not keep them from entering the battle against the militants.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

In a conservative society where women are often expected to stay at home, these women say gender does not keep them from entering battle.

"If a man can carry a weapon, a woman can do the same," said Nauzad. "The men are inspired to fight harder when they see women standing in the same battlefield as them."

The women in the unit are convinced Islamic State militants are scared of women fighters "because they think if they are killed by a woman, they will not go to heaven," said Nauzad.

"This story encourages more women to join the fight."

Take a look at more photos of the all-female unit below.

Nauzad, the group's commander, holds her weapon near the front line of a fight against ISIS in Nawaran, Iraq.
Nauzad, the group's commander, holds her weapon near the front line of a fight against ISIS in Nawaran, Iraq.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Nauzad is pictured some of her fellow fighters. The unit has about 30 members.
Nauzad is pictured some of her fellow fighters. The unit has about 30 members.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Dahir adjusts her cap in a bedroom near the front line. "They took eight of my neighbors and I saw they were killing the children," she said, referring to ISIS militants.
Dahir adjusts her cap in a bedroom near the front line. "They took eight of my neighbors and I saw they were killing the children," she said, referring to ISIS militants.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Fighters share a moment in a bedroom near their deployment site.
Fighters share a moment in a bedroom near their deployment site.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Many of the women have left their children and families to join the fight against ISIS.
Many of the women have left their children and families to join the fight against ISIS.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Dahir prepares for lunch with the group.
Dahir prepares for lunch with the group.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Nauzad smokes a cigarette after lunch. Her husband wanted to pay smugglers to take them to Europe. She has lost contact with him since he arrived in Germany.
Nauzad smokes a cigarette after lunch. Her husband wanted to pay smugglers to take them to Europe. She has lost contact with him since he arrived in Germany.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Nauzad sits with other fighters at the site.
Nauzad sits with other fighters at the site.
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

(Writing by Stephen Kalin; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Fighting In Iraq