A Hashd al-Shaabi military base in south Kirkuk. Photo: Rudaw video
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - The mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary has continued to mobilize its forces in Bashir village in southern Kirkuk and is gearing up for the Hawija operation to drive out ISIS militants, as a Peshmerga commander says they should be notified of any reinforcements in the area.
"Together with the Peshmerga, we are on the frontlines, we therefore are in need of reinforcements for the fight for Hawija and its surroundings, so whenever a zero hour is set, we can attack from the Bashir area," Zaki Kamal, a Hashd al-Shaabi commander, told Rudaw.
The Kirkuk province's military affairs are under the control of the Peshmerga, and a Kurdish official warned they should be informed of any forces’ attempts to bring in reinforcements to the area.
"The Peshmerga must be informed of the increase of any reinforcements," Wasta Rasool, the commander of Front 4 in southern Kirkuk, told Rudaw, referring to the Hashd al-Shaabi's fortification efforts.
Rasool said the Hashd al-Shaabi's 16th Brigade, which is comprised of Bashir and Taza Turkmen, since day one is militarily under the command of the Peshmerga and they have "complete coordination" with them.
Another Peshmerga official found it hard to deal with or coordinate with Hashd al-Shaabi forces, as they aren't unified.
"The Hashd al-Shaabi forces are more so groupings and of course each of these groups belong to a certain party," said a high-ranking Peshmerga official. "Dealing with them is a little bit hard."
The offensive to retake the city, captured by ISIS in June 2014, has been repeatedly postponed to avoid triggering sectarian tensions in Sunni lands.
The Hashd commander Kamal had in the past stressed that "no span of territory must be liberated without the involvement of the Hashd al-Shaabi, particularly Hawija because it’s our area and within our geography."
Iraqi forces have pushed back ISIS in most areas near Hawija and the city has been virtually besieged by Peshmerga forces since last August.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stated in early May that that the Peshmerga, Iraqi army, federal police, and Hashd al-Shaabi will all take part in the operation to liberate Hawija.
While the Hawija offensive continues to be delayed, ISIS increased its movements in the area in the course of past months launching several hit-and-run operations against the Peshmerga in southern Kirkuk's Tuz Khurmatu region, resulting in fatalities among Kurdish forces.
Kurdish security officials have repeatedly said the liberation of Hawija is crucial for the security of Kirkuk and the region in general, which suffered from several deadly bombings over the past year claimed by ISIS.
Hawija and its immediate localities had a population of 500,000 people before it was captured by ISIS in mid-2014. It is estimated that around half of the residents have fled the area, mostly to the nearby Kirkuk city.
Hawija is surrounded by 500 villages and two other towns including Rashad and Riyaz, all under ISIS control.