We need to arm the Kurds and provide them with air support.
Two entire divisions — more than 30,000 soldiers — along with Mosul’s entire police force disintegrated and fled from Iraq’s second-largest city and the surrounding area in June when faced with the Islamic State’s lightning advance across much of northern Iraq.
Only one battalion of the once-formidable 2nd Division stood its ground amid the sudden collapse of Iraq’s security forces in Mosul and Nineveh province.
Months later, nearly 2,000 of unit’s soldiers hold the eastern half of Gwer, 30 miles southeast of the city. They wear Iraqi patches on their shoulders and carry American-made automatic rifles in compounds topped by the flag of the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government.
A heavily damaged two-lane bridge over the Great Zab river stands between them and the Islamic State positions on the far side.
“Before we saw ISIS we saw the refugees,” Capt. Ahmad Mansour Abdullah said, describing the events of this summer. He used an alternative name for the Islamic State. “Then we saw the army and the police, all leaving Mosul.” […]
The Iraqis were initially pushed several miles back from their position on the river.
“We had good training, we had learned to fight,” said Sgt. Dlawar Said, who joined the post-Saddam Iraqi army the Americans began building in 2003 and who still wears a U.S. Army T-shirt. “We just had to regroup and catch up.”
Backed by peshmerga forces and Western airstrikes, they managed to throw the Islamic State insurgents back across the river to the eastern bank. The militants blew up the midsection of the bridge as they retreated.
The greatest dangers now come from mortars and sniper fire, the soldiers said. The men must sprint when they move across the roofs of some of their compounds to minimize their exposure.
But they don’t fear the Islamic State overrunning their position anymore.
“ISIS has become weak; the Americans used to strike every day,” Said said.
Said returns to the subject of the fleeing Iraqi soldiers when he’s interrupted by other men from his unit gathered nearby.
“We are men,” one of them said. “Men fight.”