KHIDIRJIJA, IRAQ - Bayan Mala Osman, accompanied by her three sons, was at home in the small, secluded Kurdish village in northern Iraq when she heard dogs barking. Her sons grabbed their weapons and walked outside to find the source of the commotion.
Then she heard gunshots as her sons attempted to protect the village from members of the Islamic State (IS). Outmanned and outgunned, Osman's three sons were killed.
'We didn't harm anyone,' said a tearful Osman. 'My sons didn't infringe on anybody's space. ISIS encroached on our land. My sons were defending themselves. The fought down to the last bullet.' ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.
At least 13 people were killed in an IS attack on two villages on Thursday evening, including 10 members of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces who had gone to reinforce the villages' defenses.
Despite losing its territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it was the radical Sunni group's worst attack in months, underscoring its rising lethality.
FILE - Kurdish Peshmerga fighters man a checkpoint as words written on stone slabs by the Islamic State are seen painted out, at Makhmur town, Sept. 10, 2014.
Both settlements are in Makhmur, a town some 50 kilometers north of the Iraqi Kurdish capital Irbil, in the so-called disputed territories - tracts of land claimed by both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad.
The tracts were under Kurdish rule until 2017, when Iraqi forces retook them following a controversial non-binding independence referendum staged by Kurds. Since then, regional experts have warned of a security gap in the disputed territory, which has allowed IS to build a foothold and begin attacks against villagers along the Hamrin Mountain Ridge.
Calls for cooperation
FILE - Nechirvan Barzani, president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Region, speaks at a press conference in Arbil, the capital of northern Iraq's Kurdistan autonomous region, Aug. 29, 2021.
The president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, made a statement on Friday urging greater cooperation between his government and Baghdad.
'On the political front,' said Barzani, 'all Iraqi sides must recognize that until the political process is corrected and peace and political stability in the country are established, the terrorist groups will continue to exploit the situation.
'Therefore, it is imperative to reassess the military conditions and capabilities, to take immediate actions to optimize coordination between the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga forces, with the participation and support from the international coalition,' he said.
FILE - Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi attends a meeting in Washington, July 26, 2021.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi condemned the attack, adding that IS remained a significant threat to the oil-rich country.
'The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces stressed the need to close ranks and not to underestimate the pockets of ISIS terrorist gangs,' said a statement published Friday by al-Kadhimi's military spokesman Yehia Rasool.
Another villager who escaped the IS attack, Jamil Ismaeel, said he saw up to 20 IS fighters enter the area.
'They came at around 9 p.m., catching us off guard. We fought until around 10 p.m. We would not have known about them were it not for the dogs barking.'
Osman expressed her hope that authorities would supply the community with a force to defend them if IS attempted another attack.
'I have lost three sons. My only request now is that this will not happen again,' she said. 'They should send a force to us.'
This story originated in VOA's Kurdish Service.