The closest Peshmerga frontlines towards ISIS-held Hawija town, west Mosul. Photo: Rudaw video
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region – Peshmerga forces, coming under daily ISIS sniper fire in the Hawija area, are ready to begin operations to oust the extremist group’s last holdout in Kirkuk province, but the military offensive has been repeatedly delayed by Baghdad. The Kurdish forces are accusing the central government of purposely leaving a pocket of ISIS in the area to cause “problems.”
“ISIS is about 500 to 600 meters away from us. Their snipers daily open fire on us. They open fire on the refugees when they flee and have killed and injured people,” said Jabar Abdulla, a Peshmerga in Regiment 4 of Brigade 6 on the nearest Kurdish frontline to Hawija.
“They have move around by care a lot at night,” Abdulla said. “The final solution for this is retaking Hawija.”
A Peshmerga commander accused Bagdad of wanting ISIS to remain in the Kirkuk district.
Brigadier General Barzan Ahmad, deputy commander of Brigade 6, told Rudaw, “The Iraqi government has a few purposes. It wants problems and for ISIS to continue in this area.”
He said that the Hawija area cannot be cleared of ISIS by one force acting alone, but the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga must work together, “but so far there is not this coordination.”
Kirkuk civil authorities have formally written Baghdad, asking them to launch the Hawija operation several times. Only once has their request been answered. They were told that before Hawija, ISIS must first be defeated in Sharqat and Tal Afar.
Rebwar Talabani, the chairman of Kirkuk’s provincial council, told Rudaw, “In order to eliminate the threats, at least on Kirkuk, we repeatedly call for the Hawija assault to be launched. Now, Tal Afar and Raqqa were put ahead of Hawija, which means prolonging the antagonism they practice against Kirkuk.”
Kurdish security officials have said the liberation of Hawija is crucial for the security of Kirkuk city which suffered from several deadly bombings over the past year claimed by ISIS militants.
Kurdish security forces have been on high alert for nearly a month after obtaining information that ISIS militants were trying to infiltrate the city.
ISIS militants have sometimes disguised themselves as civilians and tried to enter Kirkuk among displaced residents of Hawija and surrounding villages.
Last weekend, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that military operations in Tal Afar and Hawija would begin soon.