Kurdish security forces in Jalawla. Photo: Rudaw
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region - Kurdish forces are in control of all their claimed but disputed territories in Nineveh and Kirkuk, but facing a harder task in Diyala which is a stronghold of armed Islamist groups in Iraq, Kurdish officials said.
Large parts of Nineveh province, including the capital Mosul, fell into the hands of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) last week, among them areas that fall within the “disputed territories” claimed by both the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central government in Baghdad.
After the Iraqi army beat a hasty retreat and deserted en masse, the Kurds moved into areas left vacant by the fleeing soldiers.
“The Kurds have regained all of their conquered lands in Nineveh,” said Muhammed Ihsan, the KRG representative in Baghdad. “In the province, 100 percent of the taken areas have been retained by the Peshmerga forces” he said.
Out of nearly 36,000 square kilometers that make up Nineveh, “14,666 square kilometers are now under the control of the Peshmerga forces, and out of the hand of the Iraqi army and ISIS,” he said.
“Nineveh is the only province in which all the Kurdistani areas have been back in to the hands of the Peshmerga forces,” he added.
In Kirkuk, Governor Najmaldin Karim told Rudaw: “Now, 70 percent of Kirkuk is under the control of the Kirkuk security forces, which are Peshmerga, Asayish (Kurdish security forces) and police.
A Peshmerga commander from Kirkuk told Rudaw that his forces are capable of defending all the areas under their control, but not without “headaches.”
“In Hawija, Zab, Rashad, and Abasiya it is very difficult for Peshmerga forces to remain there without headaches. That is because these areas have been a terrorist safe haven, and they know the area very well,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Fights are still ongoing in Hawija, Zab, Abasiya, and Rashad districts, which make up 3,000 square kilometers,” confirmed Awat Muhammed, a member of the Kirkuk Provincial Council.
Kurdish officials said that the Peshmerga forces were facing a more difficult time advancing in eastern Diyala province which, because of its rugged terrain of mountains and deserts, has been a stronghold of various armed groups for the past 11 years.
“Even within Jalawla city, which is under Peshmerga control, there are still ISIS fighters” in certain neighborhoods, said Anwar Hussein, the mayor of the district.
“Due to the dense orchards, Peshmerga forces will not be able to clear the area out easily,” he told Rudaw by telephone, as gunshots could be heard in the background.
Diyala province stretches over more than 19,000 square kilometers, with 87 percent of the area classified as disputed territories.
In a recent statement to Rudaw Zalmay Khalilzad, the former US ambassador to Iraq, said that the Kurds did not have a land issue anymore because they have gained all the lands they wanted.