Pissed off Irishman went to Iraq to fight ISIS

Michael Martin
Michael Martin

A CORK man who spent the past few months helping the Kurdish military forces in their battle against ISIS has told how he volunteered because he was “pissed off watching it on TV and doing nothing”.

Father-of-four Michael Martin (33), from Cork city, returned from Iraq two weeks ago after spending four months volunteering with the Peshmerga forces, who are taking on ISIS in the Kurdish region of the war-torn country.

Michael told how he went because he wanted to help on a humanitarian level, but he also saw things “you wouldn’t even think imaginable”.

“We got attacked a few times. There were suicide attacks and attacks on our position. We would be prepared and in position, but it’s a very daunting feeling in Kurdistan at 4am in the pitch black dark waiting for someone to attack your bunker.”

While there, Michael met up with Joshua Molloy, from Co. Laois, who had been fighting in Syria with the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces.

Joshua was arrested after he travelled to Iraq from Syria despite the closure of the border, but he was later released.

“I was the first Irishman to meet him when he got out of prison in Erbil. I have the utmost respect for him,” Michael said.

He said people described the likes of himself and Joshua as mercenaries, but this was far from the truth.

“While I was over in Iraq, Joshua was getting ripped apart in the media. We saw a comment saying we’re mercenaries hired by foreign armies, which is totally untrue. We didn’t get paid. We were volunteers.

“We didn’t go there to fight or kill people. We went to help people through the humanitarian side of things.”

He said he decided to head over a number of months ago after seeing the suffering and wanting to do something about it.

He decided to join with the Peshmerga – which translates as ‘those who face death’.

“I did a bit of digging on the internet on their history. After a couple of weeks of organising and getting contacts I went to Jordan and flew into Iraq from there.

“There are not that many volunteers over there. The majority are Swedish, American, a few British. In my time, I was only aware of three Irish people.”

Michael was first sent to a place outside Erbil called Makhmur where there was refugee camps which were the first point of contact for those fleeing ISIS, who were around 5km away.

“It was an eye-opening experience watching all these women coming down the road after fleeing their villages from Daesh (ISIS). It is rewarding when you see them smile and they know they are free.

“We worked with the Iraqi army and American army and other European armies there training the Pesh.

“Then there was patrolling and going along to refugee camps. When refugees escape from the Daesh villages they’d come to our camp and we’d give them clothing, food and medical care.

 “We went to help the normal people and innocent families. We got attacked a few times. Of course if you get attacked you are allowed defend yourself.”

He said he wouldn’t recommend other Irish people go out as it would just put more burden on the Peshmerga, but he said they should support the Kurdish people through donations of food, supplies, clothing or money.

Despite this, Michael said he intends to head back to Iraq later this year.

“I’m heading out to do the humanitarian thing. I’ve no interest in scrapping. The Kurds are well able to fight.

“They will go to battle with no weapons but their bare hands because they don’t want to see evil come in and rip their land apart. We have to support them.”