Ako and Abbas are the heroes, who rescued more than 70 people from the IS-frontlines using an old armored BMW. Fidelis Cloer is a dear friend of mine and the most knowlageble person in the world when it comes to armored vehicles. My other dear friend Kawa Prüfer is a friend of Ako.
When Bob Tesh sent me an article about Ako, the Kurdish Hero, who used his armored BMW 750 to rush dozens of injured fighters to hospital, when ISIS attacked Kirkuk, I thought that it would be interesting to see the man and the car. Majeda Rajab Wali, Kawa Prüfer and my dear friend Enno Lenze made it possible yesterday when General Mahmoud Sangawe sent his armored Suburban and personal bodyguards to ensure a safe passage down to Kirkuk and then further East to Halabja, near the Iranian border.
Here is the story.
We meet Ako and his bullet-riddled baby, that he calls „Siliposch“, on the shoulder of the highway just outside of Kirkuk. Bypassing drivers honk and cheer. Many of them stop to shake Ako’s hand or to have a photo with the National Hero taken. So, in order not to disrupt traffic any further we decide for me and Kawa to join Ako in his car and to continue our conversation while driving further South. Ako is a humble person, but a true and experienced fighter who has accepted that one day he might get killed in combat against ISIS. And Ako drives very fast, I mean crazy fast, despite the huge patch of shattered windscreen glass right in front of his face. I count as many as 18 small arms impacts and plenty of glass damage that was caused by shrapnel. Real Battle Damage. When the frantic ISIS terrorists, who attacked Kirkuk, fired at him, they wanted to kill him. The many impacts on the glass leave no doubt. He must have really upset them when he made tour after tour into the heart of the battle and then back to the hospital.
A real conversation in the car is not possible, because the two phones Ako carries, never stop ringing. Kawa, who translates for me, tells me that Ako is now on Facebook and that he already has 2,000 followers. At checkpoints the other soldiers greet him the way you greet a comrade who now is a hero. This is a bit unfair, because they were two in that car that day. The other hero is Abbas, his best friend. He pulled the injured into the car and engaged the enemy with his AK. Without him, who now sits behind me in the Beamer, the mission would not have been possible. But humble they all are and he is happy for Ako. I notice that neither of them have body armor or even proper boots. They are in their traditional Peshmerga outfits and carry AK ammunition on chest rigs. That’s all they have. I learn from Kawa that the military equipment, the West is sending, not really reaches the troops in this part of Kurdistan. I am surprised, because they make a big fuzz in Berlin and Brussels about it. I am more surprised when he translates that Ako does not even get a salary. He is a volunteer, a member of a militia. He once had a job with the Americans, but when ISIS took Mosul, he and Abbas went back to arms to defend their people and country.
It gets really hot in the car, which he bought in Baghdad and which was armored by BMW in Munich and then probably used by some German politician before it found its way to Iraq like so many second-hand armored saloons. Nothing really works on the car, the suspension is a disaster, the brakes only work in the rear, oil is leaking and the AC blows hot air. „Siliposch“ is a wreck and urgently needs to see a good workshop. I mention that this is good marketing for BMW. Ako roles his eyes, but then laughs. BMW Baghdad called him, Kawa translates, when the story hit the news and boasted in the media they would fix the car for him – for free! Later, he says, they changed their mind and are no longer interested.
We reach a small town half way to Halabja and stop for lunch. And again people surround the famous car with the camouflage bonnet wrapping. This is probably the coolest beaten up Beamer I have seen so far and maybe it belongs in a museum. Fixing it, will cost a lot of money, that is for sure.
After lunch, I make a gift to the two heroes. My helmet and my body armor are now with good people who need this more than I do.
After having seen the military facility in Halabja where these Peshmerga are based, we rush to Sulaymaniyah to meet General Sangawe at his house. It is already dark but he receives us in the large salon where tea and sweets are served. Sangawe is a man in his 60’s who spent most of his life fighting. He now commands the Peshmerga in the East, but complains that they have not enough ammunition and that the supplies only reach Barzani’s troops. I tell him how grateful I am that he made this road trip possible and I promise that I will contact my colleagues at BMW in Munich to ask if they will sponsor the repair.
Before we leave, even the General wants a photo with Ako and now it is up to Lasse, my Danish colleague, to ride in the Beamer.
100 km before Erbil the trip suddenly ends when we receive a call from the General’s office. Apparently, someone in Erbil is not happy with us using the General’s Suburban and escort in their territory and we are not allowed to cross the checkpoint that is ahead of us. So here we are in the middle of the night, causing political complications. Majeda, our unofficial „protocol officer“ is upset and embarrassed, and Ako and the bodyguards insist they want to cross that checkpoint but we tell them, that they must go back and we take a taxi. It takes a lot of convincing but in the end, after a tearful farewell, we sit in a small Toyota Camry heading for Erbil. The checkpoint is easy and finally, just before midnight, we reach Deutscher Hof in Erbil and have plenty of German beer.
I am now back in Dubai and want to thank Majeda, Kawa and Enno. Not to forget Bachtiar and Saman. This was an amazing day. You have really won my heart.
I hope that Ako and his comrades stay safe in their fight against ISIS and that ultimately they will defeat this barbaric enemy.
I am not a writer, so please excuse my poor choice of words. I just wanted you to know about the brave people in Kurdistan, who also fight for us.
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