Residents of Kirkuk’s southern territories have been abandoning their homes for fear of Islamic State attacks and kidnappings. They say that Iraqi security forces only maintain a presence within the main city and larger villages; that Hashdt al-Shaabi is not an acceptable anti-terrorism element and has not performed as a security force well. A resident of Kobane, a small village near Daquq, stated, “There were 30 Kurdish houses in Kobane village in the past, now it’s down to only one. Not only Kobane is empty of Kurds, but also the villages of Saed Wala, Husammedin, and Zanqir.” A Kurdish man from Haftagar said that ISIS militants often ambush security forces on the main streets and, “ISIS militants openly and especially during night time break into the village buying whatever they need at the shops and bazaars.”
The increasing threat of Islamic State attacks and their presence in general has citizens deeply concerned. Hashdt al-Shaabi (PMF) who is now the primary security force for the region, took control of Kirkuk in October last year while simultaneously forcing Peshmerga forces out. Recently the PMF was deployed to the main route that leads to Baghdad from Kirkuk after several militia fighters were killed by ISIS militants this past weekend. Kirkuk’s Hashd al-Shaabi spokesman, Ali al-Husseini, announced that a new plan for security measures would be going into effect soon in an attempt to prevent an Islamic State comeback. He stated that, “The Rapid Response Force, Federal Police, and Hashd al-Shaabi have begun providing security on the Kirkuk-Baghdad road, which starts from Daquq town stretching to Tuz Khurmatu and Sarha bridge.”
This past week, several Iraqi policemen were captured by Islamic State militants on a main road and executed in a nearby remote village; pictures of the event began circulating on social media over the weekend. Kirkuk’s head of the provincial council’s security committee, Azad Jabari, confessed that the Iraqi security forces lacked essential skills for the task at hand. In an interview he said, “Some of those who have come [to Kirkuk] are Hashd al-Shaabi and other soldiers. In terms of providing security, they don’t know anything.” He added that, “ISIS has carried out very tough assaults. In Kirkuk they broke into the Kirkuk Republican Hospital in order to take a wounded militant out and fought a fight which lasted half an hour.”
Although the Iraqi government has official declared its victory over the Islamic State and its caliphate, sleeper cells have begun using unconventional tactics to strike at government forces. 27 members of the PMF were killed in February and more attacks are occurring every week despite renewed efforts to conduct counter terror operations in the region.
The previous Police Chief for Kirkuk, Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir, stated that the Islamic State has regrouped and is now counter attacking. He professed, “Nowadays and very openly those who had been arrested on ISIS charges have now been released and they walk at the city centers. During the fight against ISIS, we captured 350 ISIS militants and they were even tried [in court]. After October 16, another 25 militants who had been arrested before were tried. The majority of those who had surrendered to the Peshmerga during the Hawija operation and later were handed over to the Iraqi forces have now been released, thus, forming sleeper cells. The remote areas of south and west Kirkuk are under the control of ISIS sleeper cells and the group’s movements have put the Iraqi army on alert.”
Featured Image Courtesy of UK Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons