MAKHMUR, Iraq — Wearing a camouflage cap over her headscarf, Miaad al-Jubbouri cuts an unusual figure among the hundreds of men fighting to retake a village from the Islamic State in northern Iraq.
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The mother of five was the sole woman among a joint force of Iraqi army and tribal militias who attacked the village of Kanous on Wednesday — one of multiple fronts in a campaign to drive the insurgents from their remaining strongholds.
Like the men around her, Jubbouri said her motive for taking up arms was hatred of the Islamic State, which overran large parts of Iraq more than two years ago, carrying out brutal punishments and killing its opponents, including several of her cousins.
But unlike them, her mere presence on the battlefield goes against the weight of tradition in a society where women are more often confined to the home and seldom seen near the frontlines, except when fleeing.
“These soldiers are all my brothers. They are better than ISIS several times over, we want to wipe out ISIS entirely. All these soldiers honour us, they can place their shoes on our heads. It’s an honour for me to be walking amongst the soldiers and officers, a matter of pride for me,” she said.
Despite the fighting talk, Jubbouri joined the Lions of the Tigris tribal militia just 10 days ago and has no prior combat experience.
The men treat her more like a mascot than a sister in arms.
A Kalashnikov slung across her small frame, she remained a short distance behind the first line of fire during Wednesday’s battle.
On the roof of a house farther forward, a dozen soldiers and militiamen fired round after round indiscriminately towards the village, facing only light resistance.
During the two years she lived there under Islamic State rule, Jubbouri said she secretly informed Iraqi security forces about the militants’ movements, and flouted their rule that women veil their faces.
She left Kanous with her family last summer and joined thousands more displaced Iraqis at a camp in the Kurdish region, where her husband was picked up by security services and put in jail.
Jubbouri is not sure why, but guesses her husband’s name was confused with that of a suspect, or that someone bearing a grudge accused him of links with the militants.
After her husband was detained, Jubbouri went south to Tikrit and left her children — aged between 1 and 9 years — in the custody of a relative so she was free to join the fight against Islamic State.
Neither her father nor mother are alive, and Jubbouri did not tell her uncles, who might have objected to her taking up arms. Her mother-in-law however encouraged Jubbouri to go and avenge the death of a son, Jubbouri’s brother-in-law, who was killed by insurgents in 2012.
Jubbouri’s husband, who remains in a Kurdish prison, is not aware of his wife’s militia role.
The Lions of Tigris militia she joined is one of dozens that have sprung up in recent months to hold ground as Iraqi forces advance towards the Islamic State bastion of Mosul.
Backed by the Iraqi government, its ranks are drawn from young local men, many of whom used to be in the army and have lost friends and loved ones to the militants.
The men asked to have their photograph taken beside Jubbouri and said she would be awarded the home of an Islamic State fighter in Ganous after it was liberated.