Man at His Best

First Person: I fought ISIS with the Peshmerga

The man behind popular Instagram account, @peshmerganor, speaks.

BY AS TOLD TO LESTARI HAIRUL | Dec 31, 2016 | Culture

Photographs from @pesmerganor.


I decided to join the Peshmerga as a volunteer in late 2014, when ISIS was conquering village after village and town after town in the kurdish areas of Iraq. The genocide against the Yezidis in Sinjar especially upset me a lot and I decided I had to take action, as the world community was only watching. I left my unit in the Norwegian Armed Forces, who at that time was also preparing to deploy to Iraq to train the Peshmerga, and went down here on my own.



The logistics

Volunteering at that time was pretty hard as you didn't have any groups that would recruit over the Internet, like you have today. I was lucky and found a contact down here with connections in the political establishment who decided to help me out due to my Kurdish heritage and my military experience. He basically just told me to fly to Erbil and meet him there, so he could set me up with the right Peshmerga commander.

I had saved up quite a lot of money working in the Army. I spent nearly USD7000 on gear and equipment during my preparations back home in Norway, then some more on plane tickets, hotel and such. As a volunteer, I also had to buy my own weapons and ammunition on the black market, where the prices are astronomical, so I spent another $6,000 there. I spent up the rest of my savings over the next 6 months on food, phone credit and Internet access. I've basically lived on donations and a few paychecks from the Norwegian media since. It was enough to keep me in the fight and also to support my unit with gear, food and fuel.

Travelling from Oslo to Erbil is pretty simple; it's just like flying to anywhere else in the world. I'm not breaking the laws of Norway, Iraq nor the countries I transit through by volunteering. The only problem I have encountered is at the airport in Erbil, where they several times have confiscated gear I've brought with me to use in the fight.

What I do is within the frames of the current Norwegian law. I haven’t had any juridical problems with the government, but I've had some issues with my former employer, the Norwegian Army, and I've been labelled as a mercenary by some in the military community back home. This is based on ignorance, I'm a volunteer who pay for my own weapons and ammunition. And this is in my opinion the opposite of a mercenary, who is being paid to fight.

It's easy to obtain arms, ammunition and equipment, but the quality is poor and the price is high. This has been a major issue for me in the past. The Internet coverage varies from place to place, but I'm lucky to have full 4G coverage at my current location [where the interview was made].



There are no heroes

This war isn't just about ISIS versus the Kurds and Iraqis. It's so much more complicated and even after nearly two years down here, I still have a hard time figuring it out. There are countless groups with different religions and ethnicity, coming from different tribes and being part of different political parties and with support from different foreign powers. ISIS is just a product of all these groups who can't find a way to live and work together and it will be a mistake to think there will be any peace after ISIS. A more long-term strategy is needed to prevent the conflict to go on endlessly and the regional and super powers need to start talking to each other and find a solution before this ends in a full-scale regional war.

I've come to learn during my nearly two years down here that things aren't that black and white as the media would like you to believe. It's becoming harder and harder for me to tell the good from the bad. I've even seen things amongst the Kurds that have made me question some of the perceptions I've had about the Kurds as the good guys. I guess it's hard for the media to tell the truth, because the truth is that there are no heroes in this story and there won't be a happy ending.



Going home

I recently reached a point where I realised what I’ve got back home, a girl that is still madly in love with me even after all I have put her through, is more important than what I'm doing here. It's becoming harder for me to justify my service with the Peshmerga. Not to mention I'm thinking more and more about her and our potential future together. I will take part in the upcoming offensive [to Mosul that ultimately left out the Peshmerga unit]. Then my plan is to go home for good and give her the ring she deserves and start building our new future together.

Until now, I wanted to experience as much as possible, both good and bad. Because that's what life is all about... experiences and emotions. However, I kinda feel I've experienced enough of the bad things that the world has to offer. Even though I wouldn’t want to be without these past experiences, I now feel I'm ready to settle down and start enjoying life with my girlfriend and future wife.

I want to live a normal life without being known as "the guy who fought ISIS" - not just for security reasons, but also because I'm not very fond of attention, believe it or not. I want as few people as possible to know what I've been doing down here. My whole family knows and so does my former colleagues in the Army. But I have childhood friends that aren't aware; none of my neighbours knows either.

It will never end. Once ISIS has lost Mosul, other conflicts will surface. You'll have Kurds versus Kurds, Kurds versus Shiites, Shiites versus Sunnis and so on. But I don't plan on sticking around for that.


“Mike” has since left the battlefield and gone home to his girlfriend. The battle to retake Mosul has entered its second month. Follow Mike on his two Instagram accounts Peshmerganor and Peshmerganor backup to read the snapshots on his former life with the war on the ground, and his current adjustment to civilian life.