Death of a General, a mother’s loss, and hope2 February 2016 Nineveh, Kurdistan
Several days ago we came from the front line across from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-held Nineveh to attend the memorial of a General killed as he led his troops in repelling an ISIS suicide attack. Our team, consisting of Karen, Kachin and Karenni Free Burma Rangers (FBR) team members from Burma, our family, and foreign staff, drove under snow-covered peaks and through a beautiful gorge arriving in mid-afternoon in the snowy mountain vastness of Soran.
The memorial service lasted two and a half hours with speeches, poems, as well as Kurdish music from Kurdistan’s greatest singer, Shivon Prewar. Kurdish Generals, Members of Parliament and people from all walks of life crowded in to pay their respects to General Shawkat and the others who died with him.
After the ceremony we were invited to the General’s house to meet his mother, widows and families. It was snowing outside.
Inside the home, we were led to a large room full of black-clad women with their heads covered. All of them were sad and most were crying, but the children that played around them perked up when we walked in, running up to us, smiling and shaking our hands saying, “How are you? Thank you, my name is….”
The General had two wives, the older one who cried and cried as we talked, and a younger one who cried softly, but mostly sat silently, puffy-eyed, and thanked us for coming to see them. The General’s mother did not cry but looked deep into my eyes and told me, “Thank you for caring for us, thank you for sharing the loss of my son.” I thought of my own mother who is about her age who has faced the possible loss of me all these years. “I have a strange peace”, my mother says when we go on to the next mission. Here I was with a woman who was like my own mother – strong, composed, and bearing sadness with strength – a strength born of love and hope.
I shared what Jesus had told His disciples: “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” “This is what General Shawkat did,” I said. “And he died for his friends and for people all over the world. We met General Shawkat at the front and are all sad at his loss. We came to share this loss with you, to love you, to honor the General. On this earth are many sufferings and you as women know them especially well. Our heart aches with you. I am a follower of Isa (Jesus) and I believe He has prepared a place for us because he loves us, not because we earn it. ” Monkey, Eliya, Joseph, and the kids sang a Karen blessing song for them as Zau Seng filmed.
We then presented the General’s mother and wives with FBR medals for the General, medals for Wounded in Action, Honor, and Valor.
He was at the very front when the biggest attack in months came, and he bore the brunt of it, leading his troops to engage and stop multiple ISIS vehicles loaded with explosives. Behind the armored suicide vehicles came ISIS infantry attempting to penetrate the Kurdish lines. Not far behind these lines are villages and towns full of families – families who would be dead or enslaved if men like General Shawkat did not stand and lead at the very front. When an armored vehicle full of explosives, firing its heavy machine gun, is hurtling at you with over 1000 pounds of TNT and a kill radius of over 200 yards (with more armored vehicles and troops behind that truck, all firing and moving rapidly to kill you), you want to run and hide.
General Shawkat did not run or hide. He stood his ground and rallied his troops to stop the attacks. Usually a light anti-armor weapon can stop these vehicles but the difference here is that the ISIS vehicles are packed with explosives and driven by suicide bombers who are primed to detonate and will keep moving towards you even as they are wounded or killed. And the load of explosives is so great that you can be killed even if you manage to stop the vehicle. This means that light anti-tank weapons do not have the range to safely engage these vehicles and cause them to blow up before they get too close. The Kurds told me, “We need the Milan or Javelin Anti-Armour systems, any type of medium-to-large anti-tank system that can stop these suicide bombers far enough away so that we can live.”
In this case, the General and his troops stopped the suicide bomber, but he and four of his troops died as the explosion was too close to them by the time they were able to engage and stop the lead truck. The surviving Kurds stopped the following ISIS troops and vehicles.
ISIS was held off in what turned out to be the biggest attack in three months on the Nineveh/Mosul front. This attack was directed at multiple Kurd positions and General Shawkat’s was just one of them. The Kurds held, and told me, “We thank America and the coalition, too, for the aircraft they sent to help stop ISIS then.”
Dear reader, we, too, thank all who are helping – and especially those who pray – as only the love of God can change peoples’ hearts here or anywhere. Last year FBR was invited by our friend Victor Marx to help the Kurds and the prayers we have prayed since that first trip remain the same:
- That ISIS would be stopped.
- That Kurdistan would be free.
- That the heart of all the enemies would change to love.
We pray this in Jesus name and thank you for enabling us to share hope and God’s love with people like the General’s mother and family.
May God bless you,
Dave, family and Free Burma Ranger/ Free Kurd Ranger teams here in Kurdistan