Peshmerga monitor their front south of Kirkuk. Photo: Rudaw
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region – The operation to retake Hawija from ISIS may not be next, said Kirkuk’s governor the day Iraqi forces announced they are in full control of Tal Afar.
“Based on the information we have and based on what the prime minister has said, it seems after Tal Afar, Kirkuk might not be next,” said Najmaldin Karim after heading a Kirkuk security meeting.
Hawija is located in Kirkuk province. ISIS captured the mainly Sunni Arab city in mid-2014 after sweeping through large areas in both Iraq and Syria.
The security meeting was attended by Peshmerga commanders from Kirkuk fronts, Kurdish security known as Asayesh, the police force, and also intelligence service.
The purpose of the meeting was a general assessment of the security situation in Kirkuk province, the governor said.
Karim added they discussed the situation in Hawija “in detail.” He described the alleged decision by the prime minister to postpone the Hawija operation a “crime” committed against the people of Hawija and Kirkuk.
He said the Kurdish Peshmerga have always stated they are prepared to join in the military operation and without the participation of the Peshmerga, it is not possible for Iraqi forces to liberate the entire district from ISIS.
ISIS appears to have stepped up its activity south of Kirkuk where the Hamrin mountain range runs along Kurdistan’s southern border, carrying out numerous deadly attacks on Peshmerga and civilians in recent weeks.
According to Peshmerga and Kurdish officials, ISIS has adopted a new strategy in the area, regrouping in the Hamrin mountains and around their stronghold of Hawija, establishing relations with local people and moving towards guerrilla-style tactics as they lose territory elsewhere in Iraq and Syria.
Kirkuk readies security in advance of referendum
Governor Karim said they also discussed the issue of the Kurdistan referendum that is to be held on September 25.
He said security forces have expressed their full readiness to secure the city against all threats during the vote.
The governor has requested the Kirkuk Provincial Council to vote on participating in the independence referendum alongside the rest of Kurdistan. The matter is on the agenda for the council’s next meeting on Tuesday.
Asked about ISIS-held Hawija in relation to the referendum, Karim said that if the area is not liberated by September 25, then the more than three-quarters of the population who have already fled the city can cast a ballot.
Some Kirkuk Arab members of the Arab parliament have speculated that the security situation in the province could deteriorate because of the referendum. Karim described such criticism as unfounded speculation and said Sunni Arabs themselves should know “who hosted them” when about 700,000 fled their homes and received shelter in Kirkuk.