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.

DShK 1938

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.