NINEVEH, Iraq — Peshmerga commanders around Mount Qarachogh fear that 18 months after Mosul was declared liberated from ISIS, fighters loyal to the group are gathering areas devoid of their and Iraqi forces.
"Yes, they are currently active. Villagers on the outskirts of Mount Qarachogh see their activities clearly. Some of their [ISIS’s] leaders are from the region," a commander told Rudaw while reporting from the Qaraj Plains southeast of Mosul city.
Peshmerga, who were the first to stand up to the extremists in 2014, believe the fighters are regrouping.
"Yes, they have returned and are planning to impose themselves and their actions like before," added the commander.
In 2018, US-led international coalition warplanes continued to coordinate airstrikes against the extremists via communications with the Iraqi Army and Peshmerga.
Another Peshmerga commander reveals that ISIS militants break into villages asking for food and assistance and whoever refuses to do so may face retribution.
"I have received information from these villages that ISIS breaks into the villages during nighttime asking for bread, water and other things," he said.
Iraqi forces supported by Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitias and militias took control of disputed or Kurdistani areas from the Peshmerga following the events of October 2017.
"But, the villagers are powerless as the Iraqi army is far from them, therefore, the locals do not dare to refuse their demands," added the Peshmerga.
They want to return.
"...then they will be able to put an end to ISIS movements in places they are active, in coordination with the Iraqi Army," the Peshmerga said.
ISIS militants still maintain a presence in the provinces of Diyala, Nineveh, Kirkuk and Anbar.
Iraqi parliament approved the 2019 budget. In it, some funding for the Peshmerga was provided.
The bill still has to be approved by the Iraqi president and prime minister to become law.
As the Kurdistan Regional Government moves towards forming its new cabinet, people are hopeful a high-level agreement between the new governments can be reached to address the security vacuum.
Unknown gunmen killed two Iraqi Federal Police officers near Khanaqin in central Diyala province on January 20.
Reporting by Ranja Jamal