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The Real Peshmerga

When war with the Islamic State broke out in Iraq in June 2014, the Peshmerga suddenly got another bout of heavy media coverage. At first these armed Kurdish men and women were a “US-trained elite force”, the only one in Iraq capable of stopping ISIS. Then when it became apparent that they were not that at all, they were portrayed as a bunch of old guys with baggy trousers wandering around the front lines. Neither picture of them is particularly true. I knew quite a few Peshmerga from having lived here and knew that they are mostly young, fairly hard-up guys who often work another job alongside, as taxi drivers or shopkeepers. They are not well-trained and they are not well-equipped but they are usually very brave and proud to see themselves as belonging to the Kurdish warrior tradition. I spent a lot of time with them trying to take pictures that showed the good-natured, but shabby, chaos of life as a Peshmerga.

Jacob Russell
Jacob Russell is a photographer, filmmaker and writer based in Beirut. He has covered stories ranging from the rise of ISIS in Iraq to the music of nomadic Kazakhs in Mongolia. See more of his work at and follow him on instagram (@j_m_russell).

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