The bridge not far from the village of Khrabarut doesn’t look like much – a single concrete track over a drainage canal about 100 yards long – but it’s turned into a pivotal landmark in the fight between Kurdish forces and the Islamic State southwest of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

“Whoever controls that bridge controls the area right now,” said one Kurdish fighter at a nearby checkpoint before pointing off in the distance to a plume of flame where an oil well burned off excess natural gas. “And that’s why.”

The bridge – unnamed and probably little considered before the Islamic State swept through the area seven months ago – fell to the extremists last summer when Iraqi troops in the area fled without firing a shot as the Islamic State swept south. Kurdish forces reclaimed it last fall in a series of back and forth engagements. Now the Kurdish troops don’t expect much help from the Iraqi military to fend off new incursions from the Islamic State, which they refer to as Daash, an Arabic acronym.

“When my men and I arrived at this base to help fight Daash we were told by the Iraqi army based here that Kurdish help wasn’t needed,” Gen. Nader Abdullah, commander of the 2nd Brigade, said of events last June. “They did say we could spend the night and have dinner, if we paid them.” […]