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In Iraq, an all-female combat unit seeks to take on Islamic State

When the 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 neighbours 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. 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. When the 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 neighbours 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. 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. 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.”

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