Kirkuk residents are fleeing their homes in the belief that the Islamic State will re-emerge due to the lack of security forces in the region. Residents say that Islamic State militants infiltrate their villages during the night to procure food and supplies, threatening villagers lives and forcing them to flee. For those that refuse to leave, they must contend with the fear that they may be killed or worse should they not comply.
The Islamic State sleeper cells and their operatives move without restriction due to a severe lack of a security force presence. Hashd al-Shabi took over control of Kirkuk from Peshmerga last October and have since been unable to fully secure the region. Being under staffed and equipped has caused the PMF militia forces to become stretched thin throughout the territory. Presently, talks are being held between the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi central government over the possible reintegration of the Kurdish Peshmerga into Kirkuk to aid the Iraqi forces in their security mission.
A resident of Zanqari village, Rizgar Jalal, told local media that, “We are not good, there is no government force in this region… From here all the way down to Hamrin, I do not believe there is a government force.” The ISIS presence has everyone on edge. Jalal said, “we do not sleep at night,” for fear of the militants. He confessed that recently his Uncle who is a shepherd fled a small group of them when the approached him while his sheep were grazing, leaving the flock of sheep behind.
Hashd al-Shaabi commanders have openly admitted they lack the capability to secure the area around Zanqari and Kakei. They say that they have requested on multiple occasions for Baghdad to resupply them, to send more manpower and arms. The Iraqi government has yet to send any support let alone acknowledge their requests they say. Commander of the local Hashd al-Shaabi brigade, Saed Omed stated that, “The region is very wide and there is only this battalion which has filled the places of three large Peshmerga brigades. No force has been able to reach these villages,” he admitted while adding, “ISIS had been present there in the past and the group’s remnants are still there.”
Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s Prime Minister, claimed that the Islamic State had been snuffed out at the end of last year but this was a premature call to be sure. Despite the collapse of the caliphate, sleeper cells continue to operate and carry out attacks against security forces while intimidating local residents to obtain supplies. A total of 27 PMF soldiers were killed in February alone by ambushes and IED attacks orchestrated by the Islamic State. While anti-terror raids have been carried out by Iraqi security forces, the attacks are not only continuing but increasing in frequency and something needs to change for them to stop.
Featured Image Courtesy of Tasnim News Agency [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons