“Come, I want to show you something,” the Peshmerga commander tells me.
We’d been filming on a base that’s jointly run by the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army. “I will show you their tunnels.” ISIL tunnels.
We follow him and his guard, by car, down a dirt road a little back from where their main front is. The roads are dusty and bumpy. It’s a little village, the houses are all all pockmarked with the signs of a fierce battle.
We get out and we follow him into what he tells us was the local ISIL emir’s house. The front door is also riddled with bullet holes.
In the kitchen, a black iron kettle lies on the floor, and a box of rotting onions.
In another room, military vests and ammunition. It’s a strange feeling looking at what the fighters would have worn.
A whiteboard hangs on the wall – written on it “There is no God but God” and what appears to be a shift system.
The commander is eager to show us the main reason he has brought us here. We move on – ducking down through openings that have been smashed through the walls. There are no doors, a few mattresses lie on the floor. It’s all very basic.
Flanked by two blankets, which they turned into makeshift curtains, is a huge hole in the wall, and it goes deeper in. Sand bags line one side of it – and a pitch black drop into the ground.
Osama, our producer, and Ali, our cameraman, go back to get the equipment from the car. “Come down, I will show you,” he tells me.
His guard goes first, and turns on his flashlight. His AK-47 goes with him. A split second thought passes through my mind – do they actually think ISIL could re-emerge from the dark? It’s a ridiculous thought – but I’ve got a slight unease about heading down, into the dark.
The commander is next, then me. I step down the sand bags and follow them to the right.
The ceilings are higher than you think, there’s no need to crouch that low. It’s cool and slightly damp.
I follow the torch light … but the guard moves a little further on, then its just myself and the commander – he turns on the light on his phone. We go round a bend. “This is their 5-star hotel,” he tells me.
There are two mattresses, and at some point what appears to be lots of feathers on the ground – maybe from an opened pillow.
A little space off the side of the tunnel has a pile of what looks like some food cartons and water. There are electrical wires – he says its OK to touch them now. ISIL wired up the tunnels so that they could have light.
But its dark now. We walk on. I feel the walls, they are solid. I can stretch out my arms, and they don’t touch the wall on either side. There is space here.
He tells me to keep moving, but at this point I think it’s time to start filming, so I tell him I’ll get our cameraman. I move back and there’s a turn left so I go there as there is some light. I have no sense of direction down here. I keep walking and come to an opening into a room, and start calling for Ali our cameraman.
The commander follows me and laughs – saying I’m in the wrong house. We’ve basically walked underground across the little dirt road that divided where we went down, to the neighbouring house. This is how ISIL moves undetected.
As we make our way back to where we came from, I am amazed of how extensive and professionally these tunnels have been built.
We climb out, and Ali goes in. I ask the commander if it’s like this everywhere. Yes he says, ISIL has built these tunnels in every territory they hold.