WASHINGTON – The congressman settled into a lawn chair, savoring a chance to relax after his long journey, making pleasant small talk while nursing a thimbleful of the sweet tar known locally as coffee, seemingly far from the cares of the world, when three black SUVs suddenly screeched to a stop and a number of menacing-looking men bristling with guns jumped out, all looking for him.
Because the truth was, he wasn’t far from the cares of the world. He was next door to the most dangerous place in the world. He was in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, near the front lines manned by the ruthless and savage Islamic terrorist army, ISIS.
According to witnesses, the heavily armed men rushed from the vehicles, purposefully strode up to the U.S. lawmaker and bluntly informed him, “You’re not going back to your hotel – ever.”
But this was no kidnapping. It was an attempt to cover the congressman’s tracks. The men whisked him off to a heavily secured hotel.
The State Department had told the staff of Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, it didn’t mind the congressman going anywhere in the world – anywhere – except Iraq and Ukraine.
Stockman then departed for Iraq and Ukraine.
It wasn’t that he didn’t respect the State Department or its advice. Just the opposite. Stockman had tremendous respect for them and fully appreciated the concern. He just felt those two countries were the two most important places for him to visit.
He had arrived at the airport in Erbil in a somewhat disheveled state after the long flight. “I look like a homeless guy when I travel,” he would later remark. Government officials didn’t recognize the congressman, so Stockman’s friends took him to a hotel.
Not being rich, he checked into a dive of a flea-bitten hovel. He had been a little taken aback to come across a horde of men sequestered in the basement who looked like they’d stepped out of an al-Qaida recruitment poster. Maybe the State Department had a point. He saw no point in arguing with the armed guards who took him to the fortified hotel.
The Peshmerga were even more heavily armed.
Stockman would quickly come to admire and respect the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighting force, and soon saw them as brave and committed soldiers who could be counted upon in the battle against ISIS, which had so recently decimated the Iraqi army.
The Peshmerga, it struck Stockman, were just the kind of army President Obama said he was looking for, to take on ISIS.
And they were already vetted. Rather, they didn’t need vetting. There was no question where their loyalty lay. The Kurds were fighting for their lives, fighting to protect their families and defend their land.
That was the kind of passionate commitment one could not rightly expect from the sort of coalition army drawn from regional countries called for in President Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy.
“I think it’s a big mistake when the U.S. gives money to an unknown group instead of the poor guys who are clearly on our side,” the congressman lamented.
He also wondered where, how and when the coalition army envisioned by the president would materialize.
“We’re supposed to be training 5,000 vetted military people to fight in Syria, but there’s nobody there. It’s made up,” the congressman asserted.
Kurdish fighters would be willing to fight ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria, but Stockman was told neighboring Turkey had, so far, only allowed some 50 Peshmerga fighters to enter Syria.
“The Turks are paranoid about the Kurds getting weapons,” he observed. The Turkish government has long considered the Kurds, who have fought to establish their own homeland, to be terrorists.
The Kurds now have their own government, army, police, courts and a large degree of independence from Baghdad, but not their own nation.
They know what it takes to endure hardship and confront evil. Having survived the merciless assault by the Saddam regime, the Kurds are now under siege by 10,000 ISIS jihadis.
Stockman rode with the Peshmerga close enough to see ISIS troops, about eight miles from the front line.
It would be a once-in-a-lifetime sight.
Or his last sight.
Were he to go much closer, the congressman would risk becoming a propaganda-bonanza of a hostage and a one-man international crisis of nearly unprecedented proportions. Or he would find his head on a stick. Likely both. One, then the other.
The State Department people had been on the verge of going apoplectic. Somehow the Peshmerga sufficiently assured the Americans they would keep the congressman safe.
Stockman later witnessed something that might have made him think twice.
The Peshmerga possessed abundant courage, but their marksmanship could benefit from some expert tutelage.
They took Stockman out to a makeshift shooting range, where it became evident their skills were in the developmental stage.
It was rare for them to take target practice, but not for lack of commitment.
“They don’t even have enough equipment and ammunition to practice shooting,” Stockman told WND.
From what he saw, the Peshmerga were eager to fight but appeared severely under-trained, under-equipped and out-gunned.
By contrast, the congressman was told ISIS had captured 6,000 military vehicles from Iraq that originally came from the U.S. military, including tanks.
The Peshmerga knew they were in dire need of training but didn’t want to risk losing what little funding they had by complaining publicly.
“I mean, these guys love America,” marveled Stockman, who spotted a number of U.S. flags there.
One man told him, “In Baghdad, you are occupiers. Here, you are liberators.”
The man also said, “We love George Bush,” causing Stockman to chuckle.
However, he ruefully added, “They’re tough people, but they can’t do it with sticks.”
On Friday, it looked like the prayers of the Kurds might be answered. At the least, it looked like movement in the right direction.
As WND reported, President Obama announced the U.S. would nearly double its ground troops in Iraq, sending an additional 1,500 trainers and advisers.
Significantly, the U.S. military will establish several sites to train 12 Iraqi brigades, including three brigades of Peshmerga.
Additionally, the U.S. military will establish two operations centers, one outside the Kurdish capital of Erbil and another outside Baghdad. The centers will be supported by what the administration called “an appropriate array of force protection capabilities.”
Are there enough Kurds to form a strong fighting force? One that could not only defend its homeland but go on the offensive against ISIS?
Stockman noted Erbil is not a small city, with a population of 1.5 million. There are 30-to-35 million Kurds worldwide with more than six million in Iraq, almost three million in Syria and as many as 15 million in Turkey.
“They could grow a huge military force” with the proper funding and training, observed Stockman.
The Kurds are so committed, he noted, “Even the women sign up to fight. And ISIS thinks if they are killed by a woman, they will go to hell. And so I say, sign up every woman.”
But the ISIS fear of females increases the danger to women.
“That’s why they are really vicious to Kurdish women and torture them,” Stockman said. “They have hand grenades and will blow themselves up instead of surrendering.”
Indeed, after running out of ammunition during a gun battle, 20-year-old Kurdish fighter Ceylan Ozalp reportedly killed herself with a grenade while fighting ISIS on a hill outside the besieged Syrian city of Kobane on Oct. 5.
Witnesses said the mother of two turned her death into a suicide bomb attack by running toward ISIS fighters as she detonated the grenade.
The month before, she told the BBC, “We’re not scared of anything. … We’ll fight to the last. We’d rather blow ourselves up than be captured by IS (ISIS).”
If the reports are true, Ozalp proved to be a woman of her word, one who took pride in her mission.
“When they see a woman with a gun, they’re so afraid they begin to shake. They portray themselves as tough guys to the world. But when they see us with our guns, they run away. They see a woman as just a small thing. But one of our women is worth a hundred of their men,” she proclaimed.
When a photo of a beheaded woman appeared at the end of October, many feared it was a female Kurdish fighter, also fighting in Kobane, known as Rehana. A picture of her flashing a V-for-victory hand sign had been retweeted thousands of times around the world as a symbol of hope.
The beheaded woman in the photo turned out not to be Rehana but, just as sad, her friends confirmed it was another Kurdish fighter.
Another reason Kurdish women would rather be killed than captured is because many consider it a fate worse than death.
WND asked Stockman if the Kurds confirmed the stories that ISIS was turning captured woman into sex slaves.
“Yeah,” he said. “ISIS takes a warehouse and fills it with captured women, beats and rapes them. And then they sell them out to the soldiers, who make marriages of convenience that last for a few days.”
Help may be on the way to the Kurds, but the Ukrainians are still wondering when it will be their turn.
About the same time on Friday that the White House was announcing more support for Iraq, word came that Russian tanks were rolling across the border into the region of Ukraine held by pro-Moscow separatists. Thirty-two tanks were accompanied by 16 howitzer cannons and 30 trucks of troops and equipment.
The conflict was triggered in February when pro-European demonstrators ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Months later, pro-Russian rebels took control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine. The Obama administration warned Russia not to aid the rebels, but to little effect. Ukrainian troops are still battling separatists near the rebel-held city of Donetsk. The Russian tanks and troops appeared headed toward Luhansk, at least, for the time being.
Obama has berated Russia for supporting the bloody rebellion and vowed to defend the people of the Ukraine, but so far has offered only economic sanctions and has refrained from giving the country the means to defend itself it has requested.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ignored Obama’s threats and signed an order annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region in March.
Stockman told WND he doesn’t think Putin will stop until “he gets a corridor, a freeway, all the way down to Crimea.”
He described the Ukrainians he met with as frustrated, telling him, “We don’t ask for troops; we don’t ask for anything other than things to defend ourselves with.”
The congressman said they’re willing to die, “But they want weapons so they can die without just being mowed down.”
Stockman portrayed them as more puzzled than pessimistic, as time after time he was asked by confused Ukrainians, “We don’t understand, why isn’t America helping us?”
One told him, if they don’t stop Putin he will come after more countries, because when the Russian leader finishes with Ukraine, he’s not going to stop.
“We’ll do the work if you give us the tools, so you won’t have to,” the congressman was told.
Stockman said he found the country fascinating, particularly the young peoples’ zeal for self-reliance and free markets.
“The people there want freedom; they really do. And the U.S. is not backing them,” the congressman wistfully observed.
He then offered, “The headline of your story should be, ‘It’s very dangerous to be an American ally under Obama’s administration.'”
Follow Garth Kant @DCgarth