A military operation began on February 7, 2018 by the Iraqi forces and the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi to drive militants out of areas east of Tuz Khurmatu. File photo: Haahd al-Shaabbi
The threat from ISIS militants on Tuz Khurmatu has been “removed,” Iraqi security forces declared, announcing progress in their operation against the militants that was launched Wednesday morning.
"ISIS threat on Tuz Khurmatu was removed," Iraq's Rapid Response Force announced.
"The aim of the operation was to clear the area of those ISIS militants who fled Mosul and Saladin and stationed in these areas," Abdulamir Mohammadawi, the spokesperson of the Rapid Response Force, told Rudaw.
In coordination with Peshmerga and the Hashd al-Shaabi, Iraqi Security Forces launched the five-fronted operation Wednesday morning against a group dubbed the “White Flags,” believed to be Sunni insurgents operating east of Tuz Khurmatu.
The Rapid Response Force announced Wednesday evening that they destroyed some 50 ISIS positions and six vehicles were targeted. The US-led coalition also carried out airstrikes on ISIS positions in Mount Hamrin.
It also added they took control of five oil wells in the Tuz Khurmatu area and defused 120 explosives east of the city during the course of the operation.
The Hashd al-Shaabi announced they discovered a mass grave nearby the town of Kifri, Diyala province, containing the bodies of an estimated 20 civilians.
Kurdish forces did not directly take part in the offensive aspect of the operation, but were tasked with defending some 20 villages in Kurdish-held territory
"The purpose of bringing in reinforcements from the Peshmerga was to coordinate with the Peshmerga existing in the region in order to defend the people of Dawuda," Mardan Chawshin, commander of Peshmerga forces' Qaratapa front, told reporters.
"It was also to prevent ISIS militants from crossing to the Kurdistan Region from this area," Chawshin added.
"The terrorist groups who have regrouped here, identify themselves each time with a different name. They are the terrorists whose hands are turned red with the blood of the people of Kurdistan,” the Peshmerga commander asserted.
He said he has information from a source from the area that "one of them has said he killed and beheaded 300 Yezidis alone."
Further reinforcements will be brought in to the area, Chawshin, added, saying their forces are on alert and ready to repel any possible threats.
Asked whether the Iraqi forces will remain once the operation is concluded, he said, "according to plans, the forces will not stay."
He said the Iraqi army has coordinated "beautifully" with the Peshmerga during the operation.
Iraqi forces, Hashd launch operation against ‘White Flags’ east of Tuz Khurmatu
KALAR, Kurdistan Region — The Iraqi Security Forces and Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi have launched a military operation east of the disputed city of Tuz Khurmatu to wipe out the area from the so-called White Flags, a group believed to be Sunni insurgents.
The operation that began on Wednesday morning is in coordination with the Kurdish Peshmerga and security forces in the areas, a Rudaw reporter in the area said, adding that the Kurdish forces are tasked with protecting the security of 20 villages, but that they are not to take part in the fighting.
The Iraqi Rapid Response Force, the Iraqi Army, and the Federal Police as well as the Hashd are taking part in the operation on five fronts from the north and south of Khurmatu, as they aim to drive the militants east of the city, according to Hashd's media office.
"The operation comes to defeat the outlawed groups, ISIS remnants, and to end the targeting of Khurmatu with [mortar attacks], and to secure the road between Baghdad and Kirkuk," the Hashd said.
A video explainer by the Shiite force defined the so-called White Flags as "separatists," a term used in Hashd media for Kurdish militants who seek an independent state for Kurdistan.
It goes on to claim that the White Flags were found to be in contact with a Sunni armed group.
A group of Kurdish fighters, many of them who describe themselves as Peshmerga defectors, are known to have presence in the area under the name of the Liberation Army whose objective is to fight against the Hashd al-Shaabi in Khurmatu.
The group was formed following the October 16 events which saw the Iraqi forces and the Hashd take control of the majority of the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad such as oil-rich Kirkuk and Khurmatu.
The Hashd video says that the White Flags and the Liberation Army titled the "volunteers," have parted their way following Iraqi bombardments of areas located east of Khurmatu.
The Iraqi air force is taking part in the operation, the Hashd reported.
Photo distributed by the Hashd al-Shaabi media office claims to show a fighter of the so-called White Flags.
Khurmatu is 68 km southeast of Kirkuk.
The Iraqi forces stated as early as December 12 that they were preparing an operation against groups they considered outlawed east of Khurmatu following repeated shelling of Khurmatu. Iraqi helicopters and artillery bombed several Kurdish villages at the time which caused the displacement of many people, including those who were initially displaced on October 16.
The so-called Liberation Army, the Kurdish group that formed following the Kirkuk events, has stated that they thought their presence was necessary to defend Khurmatu from human rights violations caused by the Hashd al-Shaabi.
A Rudaw field investigation, plus international organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International found evidence of human rights violations such as the bombing, looting, and confiscation of houses owned by Kurdish residents in Khurmatu after October. The Kurdish parliament labeled the events in Khurmatu as "genocide," while the Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki described such acts by some groups of the Hashd al-Shaabi as "ethnic-cleansing.”
The Iraqi and Kurdish parliament have announced plans to form fact-finding committees to investigate the allegations of abuse in the diverse city.
The Iraqi government deployed its Rapid Response Force to Khurmatu in mid-January to provide security in the city that had been under the de facto control of some Shiite militia groups under the command of the Hashd al-Shaabi.
Tens of thousands are believed to remain displaced following the October 16 takeover by the Iraqi forces. Only about 4,000 displaced people are reported to have returned to their homes.
Last updated at 11:13 a.m.