Erbil - The number of Kurdish Peshmarga fighters who were killed in battles with the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, or ISIL) has hit 999 with another 4596 injured in the fighting that started in August last year.
Jabar Yawar, spokesman for the KRG Ministry of Peshmarga disclosed the number in a press conference on Wednesday following a brutal ISIS attack on the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in an attempt to grab more land and to deal a quick blow to the Peshmarga forces to repair its image as the "unstoppable" jihadi force. ISIS had been losing ground on several fronts in Iraq including around their stronghold of Mosul, Kirkuk, Diyala province as well as Anbar.
It is not clear how many ISIS militants have been killed by the Peshmarga forces, because they never report on the number of their dead fighters and most of the time they do not leave behind bodies if they can recover them before pulling back. Massoud Barzanin, President of Kurdistan Region has said recently that "no less than 3000" have been killed by Peshmarga.
ISIS captured territories in Iraq's mainly Sunni Arab populated areas in a lightening fast offensive in June last year after three divisions of the Iraqi Army ran away in the face of the extremist group leaving heavy weaponry in the hands of the extremist group.
At first, the group did not appear to be interested in attacking Kurdistan, and Kurdish officials did not want to engage ISIS in the Arab populated areas for fear of igniting an ethnic conflict between Arabs and Kurds. The Sunni Arab population had long been complaining of marginalization by the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, therefore many Sunnis welcomed ISIS, or did not resist when the Army fled.
However, Kurdish Peshmarga forces, who were now filling the gap created by the absence of the Iraqi Army in contested areas between Baghdad and Erbil that Kurds claim to be historically part of Kurdistan and has a mixed population of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Christians and other minority groups. ISIS began its surprise attack with the newly captured heavy weapons and armored vehicles in August pushing deep into Kurdish territories taking key towns like Sinjar, Zummar, makhmour, Gwer (only 25 km from capital Erbil), and dozens of villages.
The Peshmarga fought, as it seemed, a helpless war because what they had was old Russian made AK-47s, BKC machine guns, anti-aircraft machine guns, and RPG rocket propellers which proved ineffective against the armored US-made Humvees and MRAPs and long range artillery, howitzer and mortars. So, they pulled back in what they described tactical retreats to avoid heavy casualties.
On August 8 American warplanes began bombing ISIS destroying their armored vehicles and artillery positions. With that, Kurdish forces started to reorganize and put up a better fight as the air support boosted morale.
Kurdish forces have been making gains against ISIS ever since, especially after they received MILAN anti-tank weapons from Germany. The weapons system has proved to be very effective against ISIS armored vehicles, and especially against ISIS suicide car bombs which they also armor so nothing can stop them.