Belfast Telegraph

Irish backpackers who visited Iraq war zone 'foolhardy and naive'

By Ryan Nugent

Irish backpackers who visited the front line of a war zone in Iraq have been described as "foolhardy and naive" for associating themselves with Kurdish forces.

William Meara (26) and his pal Craig Reynolds (24), who travelled to a notorious front line of war in northern Iraq as part of a backpacking trip around the world, said they were "terrified" when brought to the notorious Daquq last week.

The front line has seen a number of deaths of Kurdish militants, the most recent of which came when an Isil sniper gunned down a fighter in mid-November.

The pair have spent the past two months travelling across the Middle East.

After hitch-hiking from the Iranian border to Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq they made acquaintances with Kurdish freedom fighters, the Peshmerga military force - some of which were fighting from different parts of the world.

Mr Meara told the Irish Independent that a Canadian freedom fighter was their link as they visited Daquq the day after a late night drinking session with locals.

"He introduced us to his friend. The next morning he decided he'd invite us out and try to get us out on to the front line," Mr Meara said.

"We must have said something when we were out with him the night before and that's how he got the idea.

"Before we knew it we were meeting all of these high-profile officials. There was a commander of the local area with us.

"It was absolutely terrifying to be honest.

"It was probably one of the scariest things I've ever done," he said.

The two men posed for photos for their blog 'Ready for Road', smiling with a number of soldiers who were holding machine guns and assault rifles.

While making the most of the experience, Mr Meara attempted to take some more photographs through the sandbags at the front line, but was pulled back immediately.

"I was trying to take pictures but the lads were just like, 'no stand back, this is serious'," he said.

"We were talking to the guys at the outpost and whatever they said to the lads in our convoy, they decided it wasn't safe for us to be there, because we had no military training.

"They were making gestures, in other words, we were in a vulnerable position and shouldn't be there. Even though something might not happen, it wasn't safe," he said.

The action by the pair was not met warmly by Irish security analyst, Dr Tom Clonan, who said it was risky business and that a number of governments could be looking for information from them.

"It's because of their proximity to a group that is operating in combat in Iraq," Dr Clonan said.

"There'd be a number of governments that might be interested in speaking to them.

"I would be very nervous of posing for a photograph with weapons in an environment where combat is taking place.

"It's just naive, they shouldn't be doing that," he said.

Irish Independent

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