Somewhere at the frontlines around Kirkuk some men attack ISIS positions. Cheers and cries of victory are heard and the whole region is on fire. It reminds one of the old days of the Kurdish uprisings as brave men fought against the overpowering Iraqi and Iranian armies. But the video showing the battle is not from the last century, it is from early August this year. A group called Peshmerga Legion uploaded it on their social media and has gained the attraction of many who support the Kurdish cause. We had the chance to talk to their commander Steven Costa, who himself is a veteran of the British Armed Forces.
Corduene: What is the Peshmerga Legion?
Costa: We are volunteers assigned to an irregular Peshmerga unit consisting of Westerners. The unit consists of former Marines, Special Forces or Navy soldiers, who have taken a stance against the tyranny that is the Islamic State and the unthinkable acts of cruelty that have been set upon the Kurdish people in Iraqi Kurdistan. Some are just infantry soldiers where as others have specialist skills like mortars, machines guns, snipers and medics to name but a few. As veterans from different militaries from more than five nations we possess a vast variety of military skill sets which we have used to transform ourselves from a group of men with a common aim into a battle proven unit that is held in high regard within the Peshmerga.
Corduene: Can you be compared to the French foreign legion?
Costa: I guess in the fact that it consists of foreign volunteers from around the globe but that’s where the similarities stop. We are from Germany, Great Britain, the US, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Slovakia, Romania and South Korea.
Corduene: Why do you fight in Kurdistan?
Costa: Some of us here have been employed as PMC (Private Military Contractors) in other hostile areas around the world, but the difference now is that we are here as unpaid volunteers. We are in Kurdistan as we believe in the struggle of the Kurdish people and the global threat that is ISIS. We all support an independent Kurdistan. The Kurdish people have the right to govern themselves and their own country.
Corduene: Some people think that foreign fighters are there to fight against Islamism, not for Kurds. What do you say about that?
Costa: We are not here to fight against Islam; almost all of the Peshmerga are Muslims. We are here because we believe what ISIS is doing to the Kurds must be stopped. The killing of women and children must be stopped. The destruction of historical sites must be stopped.
Corduene: How do Kurdish Peshmerga react when they see you?
Costa: The Peshmerga welcome us with the open arms of brotherhood. We have a very good reputation as a unit, a reputation we earned both on and off the battlefield. They treat us as they would treat any other Peshmerga and hold us in high regard for the fact that we have given up everything to come and help them in their battle against ISIS and for an independent Kurdistan.
Corduene: Do you work with the Peshmerga Ministry? Are you recognized by them as part of the Peshmerga, or do you fight on your own?
Costa: We work with the Ministry of Peshmerga and we are recognized by the Peshmerga as a foreign volunteer unit. We have been given residency cards for the duration of our stay with our employment listed as Peshmerga. We fall under all the rules and regulations any other Peshmerga unit comes under.
Corduene: How do the legionaries fund their fight?
Costa: As volunteers, there is no pay other than knowing you are acting on behalf of a just cause. We legionaries have left behind our homes, wives and children along with jobs and the comforts of western living in an effort to help stem the spread of the Islamic State. We fund ourselves and are sometimes lucky enough to be given donations to help fund what we need.
Corduene: How do you feel in Kurdistan and do you miss your home countries?
Costa: We are mainly based on the front lines but we have had a chance to see a little of the beautiful cites of Erbil and Sulaymanyiah, at times we all miss our homes, families and friends, but all of us know we are here for the same reason.
Corduene: How do you recruit people? How do you make sure that there are no criminals amongst them, and are there any general requirements to join the Legion?
Costa: We have a website that helps people who want to volunteer to get the information they require. We also have a vetting process that ensures we only take people with the correct backgrounds. This includes a military background of at least four years and a clear criminal history. Whilst we are a volunteer force and fully understand that any man willing to lay down his own life in the protection of others is an asset, we must ensure the integrity of our unit and therefore must exclude any individual that has criminal convictions for offences of sexual nature, convictions for class A substances and convictions for theft or robbery.
Corduene: Where do you see yourself in a year? Where do you see the Peshmerga Legion in a year?
Costa: I think I will still be involved with the legion and in Kurdistan. I have made a commitment and intend to see it through. As for the legion, I think it will continue on its current path in helping the Peshmerga and the Kurdish people in obtaining an independent Kurdistan.