Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi meeting with Iraqi military officials. Photo: PM’s office
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Wednesday that the military operation against ISIS in Hawija will start soon with coordination between the Iraq army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces. He blamed the delay on difficulties coordinating with diverse Kurdish players.
Iraqi forces "continue to have coordination with Peshmerga as we have to have it with them because Peshmerga are present around Hawija region so they must be coordinated with," said Abadi at a press conference.
He explained that plans had existed to launch the Hawija operation before Mosul, but it was difficult to deal with multiple forces operating in Kirkuk, blaming dis-unity among the Kurdish forces.
"As you know, it was initially decided to launch the Hawija operation before Mosul and there was coordination with the Peshmerga, but there were problems in the coordination, as you know there are some parties in Kirkuk. Frankly, there is the governor, forces associated with Sulaimani, forces associated with Erbil, so coordination had to be done with all of them so it needed a lot of time," Abadi claimed.
He added that before the operation begins, agreements are needed "to avoid confrontation" between the attacking forces, though he hailed cooperation between the Peshmerga and Iraqi armed forces in the Mosul operation.
Kurdish Peshmerga commanders believe their units are ready for the long-delayed offensive. The Kurdish forces control area on five fronts to the north and east of the Hawija pocket. The Iraqi army and Hashd al-Shaabi are in control to the south and west.
“We are fully ready to take part in the Hawija offensive,” said Rebwar Ali, a Peshmerga commander in Kirkuk last summer. “The Peshmerga are capable of fighting and liberating any area but we are waiting for the green light.”
For the delay in the operation, Peshmerga and Kirkuk officials largely lay the blame on the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi and difficulties coordinating with those forces, who they say are not centralized.
“We should all reach an agreement for the recapture of Hawija, and we have made complete preparations and are awaiting 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, said earlier this week.
The largely Sunni population of Hawija has also raised objections to the participation of the Shiite Hashd forces.
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.
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.
Rebwar Talabani, the chairman of Kirkuk’s provincial council, has alleged the continued delays in launching the military offensive “means prolonging the antagonism they practice against Kirkuk.”