KIRKUK, Iraq (AFP) — They burst into the house in the early hours of the morning and pointed a gun at Abu Mohammed’s head: “We are the Islamic State — give us your car!”
To protect his children and grandchildren, the 69-year-old Iraqi agreed to hand over the keys.
A retired police officer with thin grey hair, Abu Mohammed said he had seen bullet wounds before.
When one Islamic State group jihadist pressed the barrel of a gun to his forehead, he said he was defiant, but did not lose his cool.
“He was young, just a kid. I said to him, ‘My children are older than you. I’m 69, and you talk to me like that?’”
To spare the lives of his daughter, his son and their children, he gave the fighter the key of his 4X4.
“The truth is I was afraid. He wanted the key, so I gave it to him.”
Later that day, Abu Mohammed heard his car explode.
A fighter had blown himself up amid a group of Iraqi soldiers in front of the provincial government headquarters in Kirkuk, a major oil city in northern Iraq.
The bomber came under police gunfire and blew up the car before reaching his target, said witnesses who were hosing down the charred remains of the vehicle.
‘I didn’t move’
Other jihadists took over the upper floor of Abu Mohammed’s house, exchanging fire with the police and trashing its three rooms.
In one, a pink baby-walker belonging to Abu Mohammed’s granddaughter was now covered with ash.
A television screen had melted and the plastic air conditioner had fallen off the wall and been distorted by flames. The walls were covered with soot and the smell of burning was strong.
An hour into the firefight, other members of the family managed to escape to a neighbor’s house, said Abu Mohammed’s son Abu Nur, 35, a civil servant.
But Abu Mohammed stayed.
He said the Iraqi forces struck hard, and his home was badly damaged.
“I was here all the time. My house was getting bombed, but me, I didn’t move,” he told AFP.
“There was fighting just outside the house,” he said.
In the street, the jihadists’ bodies still lay on the ground, their blood drying slowly in the sun.
Passers-by stopped to take pictures with their phones, and then posted them online.
Shreds of flesh
Further along the road, in a public garden next to the governorate headquarters, lay the body of a man with a long beard and Afghan-style dress.
In a neighboring house, walls were spattered with shreds of flesh, evidence of the jihadists who had blown themselves up there.
All of the IS fighters had Iraqi accents and seemed to know the area, said Abu Mohammed.
Since Friday morning, the jihadist group, cornered in its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul by a ground offensive backed by American-led coalition air strikes, has been trying to create a diversion to the southeast.
It carried out multiple attacks in Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Baghdad.
Security forces battled for a second day Saturday with jihadist snipers and suicide bombers in the city, prompting Baghdad to send reinforcements.
Near the governorate building, police crisscrossed the streets, waiting for forensic teams to ensure there were no explosives hidden under the clothing of the dead jihadists.
Near Abu Mohammed’s gate, one of them lay on his back, a long strand of hair across his forehead. The teenage fighter had threatened Abu Mohammed, but now his face was covered by flies.