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ISIS UnCovered

Peace Be With You’: An Unlikely Greeting From ISIS

An ISIS militant stands on a roadblock in the village of “Mula Abdula” in Kirkuk, Iraq on 26 September 2014. The roadblock cuts off the road between Kirkuk and Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city that fell to the militant group in less than 4 days in June this year with virtually no resistance from the Iraqi Army. Ghazi Balkiz / NBC News

KIRKUK, Iraq — After a summer of murderous progress, ISIS militants have settled into an uneasy peace here, across a canal on the outskirts of a village called Mula Abdula. The Iraqi army abandoned the city of 2 million people months ago, but Kurdish forces — eager to control an area they consider their historical homeland — regained the major oil city, staring down an enemy close enough to hear shouting.

Firsthand Look at ISIS Fighters on Frontlines in Iraq 1:42

"What is breathtaking here is that the ISIS fighters are less than 200 yards away," NBC News' Bill Neely said. "We're watching them. They're watching us. And yet there seems to be a truce here — at least for now."

Image: A Kurdish and an ISIS flag on a bridge at the village of “Mula Abdula” in Kirkuk, Iraq
An ISIS militant stands behind fortifications next the feared black flag of the extremist group on a bridge at the village of “Mula Abdula” in Kirkuk, Iraq on 26 September 2014. Facing them less than 100 yards are hundreds of Peshmerga fighters. War is not black and white, it is many shades of gray, and here, it is as gray as it gets, even though the two sides are enemies, Peshmerga commanders tell NBC News that sometimes they talk to the militants. Ghazi Balkiz / NBC News

Both the ISIS fighters and Kurdish forces are dug in for miles. On the ISIS side of the canal, militants camp under their black flag, guns at the ready, guarding their front line. One wears a red and white scarf around his head. Another has on a black balaclava.

Image: A Kurdish and an ISIS flag on a bridge at the village of “Mula Abdula” in Kirkuk, Iraq
Shot through sand bags, here two ISIS militants, one in a balaclava and the other using binoculars to watch Peshmerga positions in the village of “Mula Abdula” in Kirkuk on 26 September 2014. The man-made irrigation canal that splits the village into two acts like a natural barrier between the two sides, a Peshmerga commander told NBC News the militants sometimes shout at them across the canal calling them to join "true Islam" while Peshmerga members shout back telling them that what ISIS does is not Islam at all. (NBC News/ Ghazi Balkiz) Ghazi Balkiz / NBC News

"We called out to them," Neely said. "They called back. 'Peace be with you.' Chilling from a group that has beheaded two American journalists." The Kurds have no plans to attack ISIS, but they're on their guard, as well. "We will beat them," a Kurdish commander told Neely, "even if it takes 10 years."

A sign to Mosul is visible just past the ISIS front line, an eerie reminder of the terrorist group's lightning-quick advance through the northeast part of Iraq. It now controls huge swaths of Syria, as well, declaring a caliphate of strict, uncompromising Islam. But to the east is independent Kurdistan — and the Kurds, with the help of a U.S.-led coalition, intend to keep it that way.

Image: A Kurdish and an ISIS flag on a bridge at the village of “Mula Abdula” in Kirkuk, Iraq
The Peshmerga fighters hold the territory east of the canal while less than 100 yards away ISIS militants hold the territory west of the canal on Sep 26th 2014. There has not been fighting between the two sides here since June, a Peshmerga commander told NBC News, however the US has been bombing ISIS locations close by, the Peshmerga commander added that “Ironically, the militants have come closer to the Kurdish lines since the bombing started” he said the militants think they are safer there because the US would not bomb a location so close to the Peshmerga. Ghazi Balkiz / NBC News

— Tony Dokoupil with Bill Neely in Kirkuk