Cyber Security and Emerging Threats Iraq ISIS Islamic State Kurds Peace & Security Security Terrorism The Middle East and North Africa Western Europe

Shan Ba Shan, Shoulder to Shoulder

Iraq has been a central theatre of war in the Middle Eastern conflict since 1948. After the liberation from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq in 2003 by coalition forces, the victors ambitiously tried to reverse a history of dictatorships in the region and replace an unstable system with an institutional democracy. When in 2013 the rise of ISIS plunged the country into chaos as different factions fought for control, Kurdish forces were able to seize territory in Northern Iraq but now the independent Kurdish national state is under siege from all sides by ISIS, Turkey and Sunni militia.

Joining the fight against ISIS are hundreds of volunteers from western militaries. They are adventurers and idealists on a crusade against the Islamic state. They are motivated by idealism rather than pay and are veterans of advanced western militaries most of them with combat experience. Many have previously served during the Iraq war 2003 and are now fighting alongside the Peshmerga and other Kurdish resistance forces to support their dream of a free Iraq. As the numbers of Muslim westerners joining ISIS has grown over the recent months, so has the numbers of volunteers pouring into the battlefield from all over the world to combat Islamist groups.


The mystery surrounding these people has attracted the attention of the news media world-wide, adding to their glamour. One man in particular has made a name for himself, for his valor in combat and presence on the battlefield. A man only known to his friends as “Mickey” has been honored with the title “Necromancer” by ISIS, for taking down so many of their fighters. According to himself he was a part of a rocker-gang, served in the French foreign Legion and is currently a Sergeant Major in the Peshmerga army. When asked why he had come, he answered: “I’m here for all of those who want to live a peaceful life that has been deprived to them by ISIS,” he added. “I don’t care about politics or religion. That’s not what I’m here for.”

A report in 2014 stated that 108 Americans have volunteered to join the Peshmerga in the fight against ISIS, in comparison to 200 American citizens fighting with ISIS. The same study found that two thirds of the volunteers have military training; the majority of them are between twenty to thirty years old and Texans are statistically over-represented among the fighters. The efficiency of these units in combat is disputed, as there are no reliable reports on their individual performance. An article by “The Daily Beast” claims that most foreign fighters are in fact not on the front lines, but used as publicity stunts.

Apart from ex-military, rogue biker gangs have joined the Kurdish resistance movements. German and Dutch Hells Angels have permitted some members to set boots on the ground to fight ISIS, yet their motivations remain shady. Many of these gangs are notorious for violent crime, drug trafficking and pimping in Europe. According to the head of these biker gangs, many members are Kurdish Nationals and committed to the struggle for a Kurdish Nation. In a video clip available on the internet, a biker identifying as “Ron” explained, “The Kurds have been oppressed for a very long time, and the way the Yazidis are being murdered, you can’t just stay on your couch at home and do nothing.”

The reasons motivating foreigners to fight ISIS as para-militaries are diverse, some are gun slinging cowboys out for an adventure, others are idealists pressed by an urge to fight for a good cause. The Kurdish struggle for, an independent state has been underway since the First World War and is likely to be a source of conflict for the coming years attracting fighters from all over the world to leave a mark in history.

Leon Fleddermann
Leon Fleddermann is currently working on his bachelors degree in political science at the University of Vienna. He has been interested in politics since an early age and is keen in giving a European perspective to current issues.