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  • 16 June 2014, 10:26

Iraq: On The Front Line In The Conflict

Along dusty roads, past huge but now abandoned Iraqi military bases, a Kurdish military convoy makes its way to the front line on the western edge of the city of Kirkuk.

Unlike the Iraqi army they did not flee as ISIS gunmen rampaged their way through this part of northern Iraq, previously considered a stronghold of Baghdad's army.

Hundreds of Peshmerga soldiers man a mud berm. The ISIS fighters are a short distance away on the other side and there is regular contact between the two sides.

Bullets whistle overhead as Kurd fighters look for targets and any sign of movement by the Islamists.

The soldiers say that ISIS are holed up in Sunni villages about 800m away and for the past few days have attacked the Kurdish positions, sometimes from trucks mounted with heavy weapons and sometimes with mortars.

The Kurds just want to contain ISIS and keep them from entering Kirkuk once again.

ISIS are now heavily armed after looting the Iraqi army stores and here, as with much of Iraq, they are digging in and consolidating their positions.

Getting them out is going to prove very difficult.

The Kurdish commanders are staggered at the collapse of the Iraqi army but doubt that ISIS can get into Baghdad.

Sheltering from the blistering sun, Brigadier Sideeq Heerani told me he believes that someone gave the orders for the Iraqi Army to withdraw rather than defend their positions.

"There is a hand behind this. Someone is responsible and should be brought to justice, it makes no sense," he says wiping sweat from his eyes.

On the questions of Baghdad falling to ISIS he shakes his head and smiles.

"You think America would let this happen, Iran would let this happen?" he says.

He is probably correct in his analysis, but the microcosm of the Kurdish containment of ISIS in specific northern areas is not a working plan for huge swathes of the rest of Iraq.

Kirkuk was briefly terrorised by ISIS, but is now under the control of the Kurds and life has returned to normal.

In his heavily guarded offices, city governor Dr Najmaddin Karim is warning that ISIS will consolidate, introduce Sharia law and fundamentally change the lives of all citizens living in the areas they now control.

He believes that there needs to be an international response and it has to move quickly.

"ISIS are joining forces with former Baath party members and are growing," he says.

"There needs to be a response and it needs to be in Iraq and in Syria where these people have come from. Tony Blair is right this needs to be coordinated action," he says, promising Kurdish support.

While the government in Baghdad, the United States, Iran and a host of other countries consider how to respond to a problem that flowed here from Syria, but was exacerbated by internal rivalries and politics, the fact is that the Kurds are now the only northern resistance to ISIS and its brutal take over.

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