MOUNT QARACHOGH, Kurdistan Region - At a Peshmerga outpost on the top of Mount Qarachogh, near Makhmour, soldiers keep a close eye on ISIS militants known to be hiding out in caves nearby.
“Our intelligence has obtained knowledge that ISIS might attack us,” said one Peshmerga on a foggy night on the mountaintop. “At night, ISIS controls all the villages at the base of Mount Qarachogh.”
ISIS was declared defeated in Iraq 11 months ago and is supposed to be on its last legs in Syria. Yet intelligence sources estimate that the number of ISIS militants in Iraq has as much as doubled in recent months.
Some 300 ISIS militants are believed to be sheltering around Mount Qarachogh.
“There is a cave down the mountain. They are all ISIS,” said a Peshmerga on watch duty. “They don’t come out during the day, hiding inside their caves. They are out at night.”
The Peshmerga Ministry has intelligence that ISIS has reorganized itself in Iraq and their relations with militants in Syria have not been severed.
ISIS has capitalized on the rift between the Iraqi army and Peshmerga.
“Since the October 16 events and the coming of the Iraqi army and Hashd al-Shaabi to the region like Khanaqin, Kirkuk, Makhmour, and all the way to Shingal, we do not have any coordination with the Iraqi army and Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi,” said Jamal Iminiki, Peshmerga chief of staff.
“Definitely there is a security gap from Khanaqin to Shingal, to west and south Kirkuk and Makhmour. This gap has not been successfully filled by the Iraqi army,” he added.
The Peshmerga and international coalition carried out a joint operation against ISIS on Mount Qarachogh in July. They cleared
30 square kilometres of territory and destroyed caves and tunnels being used by the militants.
Makhmour is a disputed area that has been the security responsibility of the Iraqi security forces since the federal takeover of these areas on October 16.