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Coalition predicts Hawija operations to be like multi-front Tal Afar

By Rudaw 8/9/2017
Iraqi Army vehicles pass through Kurdish Peshmerga on their way to the Makhmour front in 2016. Photo: Farzin Hassan/Rudaw.
Iraqi Army vehicles pass through Kurdish Peshmerga on their way to the Makhmour front in 2016. Photo: Farzin Hassan/Rudaw.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The offensive to oust ISIS militants from Hawija is likely to play out similiarily to the short, quick, and multi-pronged operation in Tal Afar which Iraqi security forces completed on August 31.

"... [T]he success in Tal Afar, with all elements of the Iraqi Security Force working together on multiple fronts simultaneously, was just too much for ISIS to handle," Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesperson for the US-led global anti-ISIS coalition said.

Dillon was speaking to Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Baghdad on Friday.

Iraqi Gen. Abdulamir Rashid Yaralla led the campaigns against ISIS in Tal Afar and Mosul city, and he "is still in charge right now," Dillon explained.

"And I expect to see something very similar to capitalize on the successes that we've seen in Tal Afar," he added.

In the largely Turkmen city of Tal Afar, elements of Iraq's security forces like the army, federal police, Rapid Response Units and Counter-Terrorism Services were paired with Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary units (PMUs).

Kurdish Peshmerga maintained a northern frontline that prevented ISIS militants from fleeing into Syria and into the Kurdistan Region.

In the Tal Afar operations, Peshmerga "killed somewhere between 130, 170" ISIS militants, the US-led Coalition's former commander, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said on August 31.

Hawija, a mainly Sunni Arab city some 55 km southwest of Kirkuk, is where the extremist group notoriously paraded at least 18 Peshmerga soldiers in metal cages in early 2015, as was seen in a propaganda video released by ISIS. Hawija is located in one of the disputed territories claimed by Erbil and Baghdad.

The Coalition says the decision to commence Hawija operations ultimately lies in the hands of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also commander in chief of the armed forces.

Dillon estimates that there are fewer than 1,000 fighters in the Hawija area.

Kurdish officials have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction over delays in launching the offensive.

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.

On Thursday, Kirkuk's Asayesh (security force) arrested two suspected ISIS militants in the town of Daquq, one of whom they state was the son of the head of a local Al-Qaeda branch. 

Peshmerga have said that coordination with Hashd units is difficult because they are not centralized. The Peshmerga controls area on five fronts to the north and east of the Hawija pocket. They have said they are waiting "zero hour" and have been making preparations for the past two years. 

Abadi countered and blamed the delay on a lack of Peshmerga coordination between diverse Kurdish players.

Dillon, the Coalition spokesperson, summarized where ISIS still controls territory.

"Hawija is one of the final remaining ISIS strongholds.  And outside of Hawija, then we have western Anbar.  And in western Anbar, you've got, really, three or four towns, Annah, Rawa and Al-Qaim," he said.

He stated Iraq's security forces will "feed off of that success as we see this growing into Hawija."

Speaking to Rudaw TV on Friday, Dillon was asked if the Coalition believes ISIS has enough weapons in Hawija to defend their positions.

"We will always estimate that they will.  We will plan for that. We always plan for the worst but hope for the best. If we see the operations that we just saw in Tal Afar that is the ultimate and desired outcome," Dillon said.

The Coalition has conducted 15 strikes in Hawija over the past week, Dillon explained, targeting ISIS headquarters, defensive fighting positions, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and car bomb factories.

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