Tigris lioness: Iraqi militiawoman fights for revenge against Islamic State

MAKHMUR, Iraq (Reuters) - 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 Islamic State in northern Iraq.

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 in Iraq.

Like the men around her, Jubbouri said her motive for taking up arms was hatred of Islamic State, which overran large parts of the country more than two years ago, meting out brutal punishments and killing its opponents, including several of her cousins.

9 PHOTOS
Meet the Lioness of Tigris
See Gallery
Meet the Lioness of Tigris

Iraqi militiawoman Miaad al-Jubbouri talks to Iraqi soldiers during their fight against Islamic State militants, east of Mosul, Iraq December 7, 2016. 

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Iraqi forces backed by tribal militias during battle to retake a village from the Islamic State on the eastern bank of the river Tigris, Iraq December 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Iraqi militiawoman Miaad al-Jubbouri talks to Iraqi soldiers during their fight against Islamic State militants, east of Mosul, Iraq December 7, 2016. Picture taken December 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Iraqi forces backed by tribal militias during battle to retake a village from the Islamic State on the eastern bank of the river Tigris, Iraq December 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Iraqi militiawoman Miaad al-Jubbouri stands near Iraqi soldiers during their fight against Islamic State militants, east of Mosul, Iraq December 7, 2016. Picture taken December 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Iraqi forces backed by tribal militias during battle to retake a village from the Islamic State on the eastern bank of the river Tigris, Iraq December 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Iraqi militiawoman Miaad al-Jubbouri talks to Iraqi soldiers during their fight against Islamic State militants, east of Mosul, Iraq December 7, 2016.  

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Iraqi forces backed by tribal militias during battle to retake a village from the Islamic State on the eastern bank of the river Tigris, Iraq December 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

But unlike them, her mere presence on the battlefield goes against the weight of tradition in a society where women are often confined to the home and seldom seen near the frontlines, except when fleeing.

"These soldiers are all my brothers; I am proud to be with them," said Jubbouri, to voices of approval from the men standing around her. "They (Islamic State) came to destroy Iraq but we will ... burn those dogs."

Despite the fighting talk, Jubbouri joined the 'Lions of the Tigris' tribal militia just 10 days ago and has no prior combat experience.

The militia is one of dozens that have sprung to support Iraqi forces advancing on Mosul - Islamic State's last major urban stronghold in the country - in a U.S.-backed campaign that began in October and is regarded as crucial to dismantling the caliphate the jihadists declared over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

The men treat her more like a mascot than a sister in arms.

A Kalashnikov is slung across her small frame, but not once did Jubbouri fire it during Wednesday's battle, and she remained a short distance behind the first line of fire.

"They (the men) don't let me go to the very front. They fear for me, but I want to go," said Jubbouri apparently unperturbed by the deafening sound of mortars being fired at Kanous – her hometown.

On the roof of a house further forward, a dozen soldiers and militiamen positioned on a roof fired round after round indiscriminately towards the village, facing only light resistance.

LIKE A WOLF

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 order that women veil their faces.

She left Kanous with her family this 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 said her husband's name may have been confused with that of a suspect, or that someone bearing a grudge against him may have accused him of links with the militants. "As far as I know he's done nothing wrong," she added, the flag of Iraq tied around her neck like a scarf.

After her husband was detained, Jubbouri went south to Tikrit and left her children - aged between one and nine - in the custody of a relative so she was free to join the fight against Islamic State.

"My children cried and said, 'We are scared you will die'," Jubbouri said. "I told them I won't."

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 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. "He wouldn't be satisfied ... but he knows I am a wolf, that I am a fighter and that I am like a man," she said.

Backed by the Iraqi government, the Lions of the Tigris' 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 Kanous after it was liberated.

Related: The battle to reclaim Mosul from ISIS

35 PHOTOS
The battle to reclaim Mosul from ISIS
See Gallery
The battle to reclaim Mosul from ISIS
A still image taken from an Islamic State (IS) video released through the group's Amaq news agency shows an unidentified militant addressing the camera. Video said to be shot in Mosul, Iraq, on October 18. 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV via Amaq news agency TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Iraqi army members stand with thier weapons in Qayyarah, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Iraqi security forces gesture in Qayyarah, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A still image taken from an Islamic State (IS) video released through the group's Amaq news agency claims to show militants patrolling the streets of Mosul. Video said to be shot in Mosul, Iraq, on October 18. 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV via Amaq news agency
Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) gather on the outskirts of Bartila east of Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
An aviation ordnanceman inspects a bomb on an F/A-18E Super Hornet just before take-off for Mosul, Iraq to provide air-support from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CVN 69 carrier in Arabia Gulf, October 18, 2016. Picture taken October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
A member of the Peshmerga forces inspects homes on the outskirts of Bartila, east of Mosul, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces stand around a tunnel used by Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Bartila, east of Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Iraqi army personnel ride on a military vehicle in Qayyarah, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Smoke rises from a bomb taken through the window of a military vehicle in Qayyarah during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
An F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off for Mosul, Iraq to provide air-support from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CVN 69 carrier in Arabia Gulf, October 18, 2016. Picture taken October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
A U.S army soldier stands with his weapon at a military base in the Makhmour area near Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
U.S army soldiers arrive at a military base in the Makhmour area near Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Peshmerga forces sit in the back of a vehicle in the east of Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Christian volunteers, who have joined the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, take part in a training at a training base in the town of Alqosh, 50 km (30 miles) from Mosul, Iraq, October 11, 2016. Picture taken October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Peshmerga forces walk in the east of Mosul during operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Smoke rises from clashes at Bartila in the east of Mosul during clashes with Islamic State militants, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke rises from clashes in the east of Mosul during clashes with Islamic State militants, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather on the east of Mosul during preparations to attack Mosul, Iraq, October 16, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Peshmerga forces with western forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Smoke rises from clashes in the east of Mosul during clashes with Islamic State militants, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
A member from western forces stands with his weapon in the east of Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Peshmerga forces gather in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
A member of Peshmerga forces stands on a military vehicle in the east of Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather on the east of Mosul during preparations to attack Mosul, Iraq, October 16, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather on the east of Mosul during preparations to attack Mosul, Iraq, early October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Smoke rises from clashes in the east of Mosul during clashes with Islamic State militants, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"It raises the soldiers' morale to see a woman with them, fighting against terrorism and Daesh," said 27-year-old fighter Amer Kadhim.

One commander talked about making Jubbouri the head of a female battalion, but the fighters were less enthusiastic about the prospect of their own wives and sisters taking up arms alongside them.

Asked whether he would allow his female relatives to join the battle, Kadhim evaded the question. "We have customs and traditions," he said.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.