KORRE, Iraq (Reuters) - In Iraqi Kurdistan he is simply known as Uasta - “the fixer”.
For the past 30 years, Mohammed Fadil has been turning hardened steel salvaged from car suspensions into delicate firing pins and other weapon parts to repair the guns used by Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces against their many enemies. Now those weapons are being turned on Islamic State in the battle for Mosul.
Fadil joined the peshmerga - which means “those who confront death” - when he was 15.
“I was a peshmerga fighter, I joined the forces in 1986 with my brother. Whenever a weapon would have issues at the front, we would repair it. We did not have many tools, but we would fix small issues,” he said in his workshop in a small village 40 km (25 miles) northeast of the Iraqi Kurdistan capital Erbil.
Since 1945, the Iraqi Kurds have fought Iran, the forces of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and sometimes each other. For the past two years the peshmerga has faced a new enemy in Islamic State, most of the time fighting the jihadists with meagre resources and ancient weapons.
“I have a duty to defend my country, Every Kurdish person must defend their country,” said 45-year-old Fadil, whose attitude exemplifies the fierce nationalism that characterises the Iraqi Kurds’ struggles against Islamic State and other foes.
“I go (to the frontline) for two reasons, to repair weapons and to fight. If there are DShKs (heavy machine guns) that need fixing, I will repair them. But if there are none, what should I do? I will fight.”
Demand for his services has risen dramatically since mid-October when peshmerga forces joined the Iraqi army in an offensive to dislodge Islamic State from Mosul, a stronghold which the jihadists have held since mid 2014.
Iraqi forces are pushing from the south and east into Mosul and Islamic State have lost control of seven eastern districts of the city to Iraqi special forces who broke through their lines last Monday.
The offensive involves around 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, federal police, Shi‘ite militias and peshmerga fighters, backed by the air power of a U.S.-led coalition.
ISLAMIC STATE ‘NOT HUMAN’
Fadil fought Islamic State fighters only 10 days ago when peshmerga units took Fadiliya village about 4 km (2.5 miles) from Mosul.
Referring to Islamic State using the pejorative Arabic acronym Daesh, Fadil said the jihadists were criminals and inhumane.
“Daesh are criminals, they have no humanity, no dignity. They are not human. If you have an ounce of humanity, how can you slaughter people? Harm women and children? They are inhumane. Anyone with a conscience must fight against these terrorists.”
Fadil has repaired every kind of weapon on the battlefield, from AK-47 assault rifles to artillery pieces.
“We can fix interior parts of the weapon, whenever they break we can repair them”.
On a metal shelf in his workshop, a British Bren machinegun from the 1960s stands next to a U.S. manufactured M16 assault rifle, both repaired by him for use by the peshmerga.
A row of Soviet-era DShK heavy machine guns, known as Dushkas in the Middle East, and RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade launchers - many battle-scarred with bullet holes - await his attention as he uses rudimentary tools to manufacture a steel part to replace a broken Dushka cocking lever.
Among those who benefit from his services are peshmerga special forces’ soldiers who prefer to replace the firing pins on their assault rifles with those he manufactures.
“Our parts and the materials we use are even better than those used by weapons manufacturers. If theirs can withstand 5,000 bullets, ours can take 10,000.”
Reporting by Marius Bosch; Editing by Pravin Char