edit The title may be a little confusing, I did not join ISIS, I went to the frontlines with the people fighting against them

A few buddies kept bugging me to do an AMA, so here she is. Ask me anything about ISIS, the current situation, Kurdistan, Iraq, or whatever interests you really. -Rory

A few pictures: http://imgur.com/a/hxbYA

If you feel like checking out my other adventures Instagram: detroitdangerous edit Proof: http://imgur.com/DZA6tEf

Comments: 139 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

Oilfan9448 karma

So, besides killing time before hockey season starts...why did you do this?

leadwitness8 karma

Adventure, my friend. To me, leaving the comfort zone is the most comfortable.

Funkytown197919 karma

I see that the "why" is pretty well covered - but nobody has asked about the "How". I cant imagine that your average travel agent would be able to book a flight to the middle of nowherestan, and there's probably a whole bunch of "don't go here" travel advisories that you had to work around.

So - tell us more about the process of going from reasonably safe Canada to the bad parts of the middle east

leadwitness10 karma

I have touched on this a bit in the other comments. Regarding travel advisories, they are exactly that, an advisory. No one monitors or stops you from travelling anywhere, they are pretty much a warning. In my experience they are typically overblown as well, for example a few months ago I was in Crimea, which had an advisory, and I felt more safe there than in Detroit, an American city, where I travel every week.

astorian8914 karma

this is an amazing story, i wish i could do the same. Tell me, what is the general feelings amongst the Kurds, morale wise? do they believe they will defeat isis, or are they just fighting because the alternative is so gruesome?

leadwitness27 karma

Moral is very high at the moment, especially since America started really pounding ISIS. They believe they will push ISIS out of Kurdish lands, which is their only goal at the moment. I specifically asked them that same question: "Why are you fighting?" they're response was they are fighting for humanity, fighting for the opportunity to live free and without fear regardless of religion or ethnicity. Remember the Kurds have been fighting for a long time, they went through hell under Saddam and so this is nothing new to them, same struggle, new enemy.

millermiddleton12 karma

Are you trying to get decapitated?

leadwitness21 karma

I'm personally not, I'm just trying to decapitate ignorance.

jefferey131312 karma

You pointed out that ISIS has modern weapons, how come the Kurds don't use the weapons of the dead ISIS (like those they said they bury) instead of their outdated stuff?

leadwitness23 karma

They will use weapons when they capture them, however ISIS is quick to gather weapons from their dead when they retreat. From what I was told a lot of the stuff the Peshmerga were struggling with were ranged weapons like mortars and snipers. The Peshmerga also lack anti-armor which they desperately need. One thing to note is that at the time I was with them, America and the Brits had been supplying weapons however, none of them were making it to the front, because the government in Baghdad, who don't like the kurds were refusing to send them on. America needs to start bypassing Baghdad and send arms directly to the Peshmerga.

two_off11 karma

How did you organize the trip?

What'd it cost?

How long was it?

leadwitness12 karma

Well I was in Istanbul, Turkey and read a number of articles on the Kurds and the lightening advance of ISIS and decided I wanted meet the guys on the front lines. Basically I organized it the same way I organize everything in my life, I winged it. Found a bus to Hawler (Erbil) for around $100 and sat through the most hellish 30 hours in recent memory. Border crossing took a few hours, lots of refugees coming the other way. Once in Iraq its relatively cheap, $20 a night for a run down hotel. Food is cheap, under $5 on the street for a meal. Taxi's get you everywhere, and they are dirt cheap compared to Europe or NA. To get around the country I took shared taxis. I was there for 12 days.

tinkletwit17 karma

$20 a night is actually pretty expensive for run down hotels in the 3rd world.

leadwitness0 karma

Depends, its par for the region, this isn't the backpacker trail is SE Asia.

diqbutt10 karma

When ISIS forces you to make a speech in front of the camera before beheading you, will you comply, or will you tell them to fuck off?

leadwitness2 karma

Considering I know what they do after they make you read those lines, whereas the guys so far have probably had no idea, I'd like to think I'd tell them to get fucked...

frozzymm10 karma

So were you just like "Fuck it, bored, let's do this!" or was there some legitimate reason for doing this?

leadwitness10 karma

It was pretty much, fuck it, never been to Iraq before, I'm in Istanbul, so why not take a 31 hour bus ride to Hawler.

yrrah12129 karma

Have you gone on any other trips like this to see how it compares to the medias version of events?

leadwitness11 karma

Yes, in July I was in Crimea. That was probably the biggest distortion of reality I've seen, almost bordering on comical.

yrrah121211 karma

What made it such a big distortion of reality? How different was it from the medias view?

leadwitness14 karma

Basically, the people of Crimea welcomed the Russians with open arms and not a single person (I spoke to hundreds) that I spoke to was upset that Crimea was now Russian. The vast majority of people in Crimea only speak Russian, have always identified themselves as Russian and have always dreamed of becoming Russian again. This was the exact opposite to the media reports, which made it look like Russia came in and stole Crimea against the will of the people.

theyRme8 karma

Hi! With your personal knowledge, being near the frontlines, can you share some insights about the situation there which might be different to how the media may be reporting about them?

leadwitness10 karma

I think the media is reporting ISIS as some all-powerful, well-trained military force when in reality its a hacked together group of playground bullies. The only reason ISIS has been as successful as it has, is because most towns they entered were either sympathetic to their cause or, surrendered under the believe they would be spared. I talked to people who's village was surrounded by ISIS, who told them to surrender and they would be allowed to live, however once their weapons we're down soldiers walked through and killed every male point blank. The Peshmerga have already seen major advances against ISIS in Iraq and the more towns and villages that become disheartened with the ISIS interpretation of Islam the easier it will be to push them back.

avesinclair7 karma

What prompted you to do this?

leadwitness17 karma

I'm the kind of person who takes the claims of the media with a grain of salt, and so I wanted to go and see the situation on the ground and talk to those involved, from the people fighting, to the people fleeing. Being there really changed my perceptions about a lot of things.

avesinclair4 karma

from your experience, how do you view ISIS and the American military strikes now?

leadwitness19 karma

Having visited the refugee camps and talking to the people who escaped the ISIS advance I can confirm what everyone already knows from the media, that ISIS are a barbaric cult who live by their own made up rules. I had a woman tell me how all the men in her family were shot when ISIS invaded their village and all the girls younger than 18 shipped off to god knows where.

I was there the day America started the all out aerial campaign and my view, which is the same as the Kurds is that the airstrikes are a much needed turning of the tide. It took the pressure of the Peshmerga and has allowed for actual gains from the East. However, you can bomb all you like from the sky, the real work is done on the ground and either America and her allies put boots on the ground, or they supply the Peshmerga, who would be more than happy to hunt ISIS out of their land.

anuncommontruth6 karma

What's the craziest thing you've seen so far?

leadwitness25 karma

  1. I was in Iraq for maybe 12 hours and I was sitting in a restaurant when a guy walks in with full military garb, looking rough, uniform ripped up. He sits down, orders a beer and starts smoking a shisha pipe. One of the guy I'm sitting with recognizes him and says "Wow man, I thought you were in hospital?" to which he replies "I'm on my way, just stopped for a beer." Apparently the guy had just come from the front, where he had been thrown 15ft in the air by an IED, breaking ribs, but instead of heading straight to the hospital, went for a beer and smoke. Tough as nails these boys.

leadwitness12 karma

  1. Seeing dead ISIS fighters under rubble from American airstrikes was another. First time I've seen dead bodies outside of a medical setting. Moving the fallen walls and rocks, etc would take too much time so instead they were left until some later time.

trhaynes5 karma

How rough are they being with the Christian populations? My FB newsfeed is full of stories of cities being overtaken and children being decapitated. How brutal are they, really?

leadwitness8 karma

The area I stayed in Erbil was a predominately Christian neighbourhood, and there was hundreds of Christian refugees around. I spoke to them often from what they told me, it is as bad as the images you are seeing.

paintballpmd5 karma

Any extremely close calls? How did people take to you being a white guy from N. America when the lyrics first met you?

leadwitness13 karma

The kurds are extremely welcoming to Westerners, ever since America got rid of Saddam. However, as a white blond guy you stick out like a sore thumb and it does get a bit un-nerving to be constantly stared at. The closest call I had was almost being arrested by Iraqi police near Kirkuk. I was in a shared taxi at night, where no one spoke English and was hauled out at a check point manned by the Iraqi army/police rather than the Kurds. They looked at my passport and determined I didn't have the right VISA, a common tactic in third world countries and one I've seen before, in order to obtain a bribe. I was desperate not to be taken into Kirkuk, as half the city is controlled by the Kurds and the other, ISIS sympathizers. After arguing for a while with things getting quite heated a Kurdish military officer pulled up and noticing the argument got involved and somehow told the Iraqi police to let me go.

karmanaut4 karma

Could you please provide a photo of you now with a sign that says your username, so that users can make sure that these really are your photos? Thanks!

leadwitness4 karma

Done like dinner!

Gepss4 karma

What's your personal opinion about the bombings taking place right now in Iraq and Syria? Do you think it is a good thing or a really bad thing?

leadwitness13 karma

In my opinion its a good thing. It has halted the ISIS advance East and has lead to a number of Kurdish victories. For example, after American air support the villages in my album were all retaken by the Peshmerga. I can't so much speak for Syria, but in Iraq, arming and supporting the Kurds is the best strategy, they are fiercely loyal and embody all the same ideals we share in Canada, America, Europe, etc.

Blizzity3 karma

Two questions for you: What was the most striking thing for you that seemed under or over covered by western media? Was it difficult to share a taxi since you apparently have huge brass balls?

leadwitness7 karma

The most under covered thing, is why the hell arnt the weapons we send over there getting to the front. Every day we read in Western media another country sending equipment, however its simply not getting to the boys actually fighting, its being held in storage in Baghdad.

paxillus_involutus3 karma

What's the most important thing you learned on this trip?

leadwitness9 karma

The brutality that can be inflicted through blind faith.


What kind of threat do they pose to every-day people in the US?

leadwitness6 karma

I would say little at this point. Like anything you'd have to be at the wrong place at the wrong time for something to happen to you. ISIS are having a hard enough time fighting the groups in thier own region at the moment. In my view, the only threat to America, is if someone sympathetic to thier cause already in the States commits a terrorist act.

Babbylon52 karma

How many other people did you go with? Because it looks like from a couple of the photos that there's a few others that don't exactly look like Kurdish Rebels.

leadwitness9 karma

I went there alone, but obviously its not easy to get this kind of access, its not an all-inclusive. The guys I'm with are all Kurds I met, most of which work for a well known American contractor, and whom have some incredible contacts and were able to get us out there.

Babbylon52 karma

I don't think I saw anything in your album stating it, but how exactly did you go about getting into and out of Iraq; were you able to just take a plane to inside the country, or did you have to land in a border country and then cross over?

leadwitness2 karma

You can fly into places like Hawler (Erbil) and Baghdad. Mostly from other Middle Eastern countries. You can also cross the borders from places like Kuwait and Turkey. Turkey is probably the most common route into Kurdistan (Northern Iraq), although last I heard that border was closed due to increasing number of refugees.

Babbylon51 karma

Well I'll finish my tangent up with one last question: Since you were able to see everything first-hand from the Kurds' point of view, what is Maghdid Harki and the fellow rebels opinions of the progress in curtailing ISIS?

leadwitness4 karma

He kept reiterating to me that this is a prolonged fight, that will take years before this is solved. He also told me that this is everyones fight, because they are fighting people who literally play by no rules and while the threat to the West today isn't major, if ISIS establishes a safe haven who knows what they may come up with. The Peshmerga are incredibly confident however, and I was told multiple times that if Barzani (Kurdish president) gives the order they will crush ISIS tomorrow.

buzzr3092 karma

From what you saw and learned from conversation, what's the one thing the US (or a coalition) could do to best help out the forces on the ground against ISIS/ISIL?

leadwitness6 karma

Cut Baghdad out of the equation, supply the Kurds directly. These guys are willing and ready to go after ISIS, however they're fighting with antiques and haven't received their share of oil revenue in 4 months and so not a single person is being paid a living salary.

cbelt32 karma

Tell us a bit about the Peshmerga and their approach to war ? They seem to have their traditions tied to mountain fighting, and typify the ferocity and cunning that most mountain people have been known for throughout history.

Are they your typical local yokel with an AK, or more the clever Ranger class team ?

leadwitness10 karma

The Peshmerga are a very patriotic group, they fight to defend their land, as they have since Saddam. They have little interest in fighting outside of Kurdistan and as such I feel they stop advancing once the Kurdish borders are secure. However, they told me their duty lies with all Kurds, regardless of race and the General mentioned numerous times they are fighting for humanity, not power or land or oil. They have welcomed all who want to escape fear and persecution. In terms of combat, they struggled initially from a skills perspective to adapt to urban warfare. War is all about experience and considering so many of these guys just joined up specifically to defend their land from ISIS its easy to see how they struggled considering many had no prior training. However, now that the have Western military advisers and have all seen action, they are becoming more and more efficient.

dorothy_zbornak_esq1 karma

Wow, I came here all prepared to be like "quit your bs" but turns out I need to quit mine. This is impressive.

Logistically, how did you pull this off? Did you have to notify the Canadian embassy or the state department? How did you secure transport to the outposts?

leadwitness5 karma

I didn't notify anyone, didn't really want to be put on a list somewhere. In terms of transport, we used a Toyota Land-cruiser, great vehicle. It was owned by one of the contacts I made while there.

setsomethingablaze1 karma

How long did you spend in Iraq/with the Peshmerga?

leadwitness1 karma

I was in Iraq for 12 days. I spent time with different groups from the Peshmerga throughout that time.

iebarnett511 karma

What is preventing the creation of a less radical IS?

leadwitness8 karma

I'm not sure what you mean? A less radical Islamic State would simply be Saudi Arabia.

Camus1381 karma

I have been wondering: how much support does ISIS have among everyday citizens in Iraq and Syria? What percentage of citizens approves of ISIS, and what percentage of citizens hate them? What's the word on the street?

leadwitness2 karma

The way ISIS work is based upon support from the populace. For example, they easily took Mosul, because they had support from the general population who saw them as bringing about justice and Islamic law. The residents who felt they weren't being represented in Baghdad (which is currently run by Shia Muslims, where ISIS and the north are Sunni Muslims) also supported the ISIS takeover. However, if the populace does not support ISIS and is willing to fight, it is almost impossible for them to maintain a foothold. For example ISIS will never be able to invade Kurdistan for any length of time as every citizen able to lift a gun would oppose them. I hope that sort of answers your question.

KHW50 karma

Do you think America will admit that Iraq war is a huge mistake?

leadwitness6 karma

To some it was a mistake, but it wasn't to people like the kurds, who no longer have to live in constant fear of governmental genocide.

Regardless, the current situation needs to be dealt with.

[deleted]-1 karma


leadwitness10 karma

The middle east mentality still runs deep in Kurdistan and in fact I was given a security package and verbatim one of the lines said "For gentlemen: you cant have sex with a local (yeah tough), she probably has 20 cousins with AK's who are lined up to marry her."

fromyourscreentomine-11 karma

So you still don't believe that ISIS (ISIL, Daesh) was funded and created by the CIA in order to start another war? I mean how many wars are we going to have against terrorist groups with funny names? I mean the President said his military leaders are surprised the Iraqi army can't handle ISIS and yet they claim that the Daesh stole their tanks and weapons from the Iraqi Army prior to making the statement of being surprised that the Iraqi army couldn't handle ISIL. PHEW, that was hard to type in one long sentence. Stand against the Empire, may the force be with you.

leadwitness3 karma

I have no idea who funded or created ISIS, all I have to go with is the current reality and what I saw on the ground.