Kurdish Peshmerga mechanized units are inspected. Photo: AFP via Getty
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region — Kurdish Peshmerga commanders believe their units are ready for the long-delayed offensive to oust ISIS militants from the city of Hawija in the province of Kirkuk.
“We have been here for more than two years and are familiar with the area. Their number [of ISIS militants in Hawija] is clear to us. We are prepared and are waiting for the order of the president of the Kurdistan Region. Our forces are sufficient. We therefore don’t need other forces,” captain Mohammed Mala Jihad, Peshmerga officer, told Rudaw on Sunday.
The expected operation will include Peshmerga, who control area on five fronts to the north and east of the Hawija pocket, and the Iraqi army and Hashd al-Shaabi.
“We should all reach an agreement for the recapture of Hawija, and we have made complete preparations and are awaiting for zero hour. But the Hashd al-Shaabi shouldn’t advance from here. They can do it anywhere else,” Kamal Kirkuki, commander of the Peshmerga’s west Kirkuk front, also said.
Peshmerga have complained that coordination with Hashd units is difficult because they are not centralized.
On Sunday, the Hashd's 16th Brigade leadership met to discuss Hawija, according the Iraq's War Media Cell.
In the meeting, Abu Rida al-Najjar, commander of Hashd's Noth axis, discussed coordination between Hashd and security forces with Amraa Afwaj al-Majal, the 16th Brigade's commander.
Regardless of the Hashd paramilitaries' planning, the Peshmerga are confident that they will contribute to a decisive victory.
“We have prepared ourselves for the Hawija war. The war will need us from the direction of Kirkuk, and this will undoubtedly be in cooperation and with support form the Peshmerga. We predict that clearing its villages will take 15 to 20 days,” added Faysal Abd Hamud, Peshmerga commander of the Zahra regiment in Bashir area.
The Hawija pocket, centred on the town of Hawija 55 kilometres southwest of Kirkuk, contains fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters, according to coalition figures, half of what was estimated in Tal Afar, but they are a large security threat.
The US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS has reiterated to Rudaw English that the decision to commence the Hawija offensive rests in the hands of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
However, the Coalition cannot directly support Hashd forces with strikes; whereas, they can support the Peshmerga.
“We are going to continue our support to Peshmerga as we have from the beginning of this campaign," Coalition Spokesperson Ryan Dillon, a US Army colonel, told Rudaw TV on Saturday.
"So far over the last three years, the coalition has trained and equipped more than 22,000 Peshmerga soldiers and they have been vital in the fight against ISIS, both from the Mosul campaign to what we’ve seen in Tal Afar and I’m sure they’ll play a major part in what will happen in Hawija."
Hawija is about 100 kilometers south of Erbil and 55 kilometers southwest of Kirkuk city.
In the course of the past few months, ISIS has been carrying out deadly hit-and-run operations against the Peshmerga and civilians in the regions south and west of Kirkuk, particularly in Tuz Khurmatu and Daquq. Many of the militants came from the group's Hawija stronghold.