by Halo Mohammed
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – ISIS remnants hiding out in the Hamrin Mountains south of Kirkuk are reportedly plotting suicide attacks aimed at disrupting the Iraqi parliamentary elections. Residents of Khanaqin, a city in the region controlled by Iraqi forces and Hashd al-Shaabi, are demanding more protection.
According to Iraqi military intelligence reports, the number of ISIS militants in the Hamrin Mountains has climbed to 1,800. The militants reportedly comprise Kurds, Iraqi Arabs and Afghanis.
Although Peshmerga forces are a long way from ISIS hideouts, they have learned the group is plotting fresh attacks.
“According to sources advising us, ISIS has been prepping itself in the Diyala regions,” Ahmed Mustafa, a Peshmerga official, told Rudaw.
“Their aim is to undermine the election in the region. And per information we have received, they are plotting to carry out suicide attacks during or before the elections.”
The Peshmerga withdrew from the Kurdistani areas on October 16 when the Iraqi army supported by Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi arrived. Deadly clashes resulted on both sides. The areas remain disputed, claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad.
The Hawija pocket, about 100 kilometers south of Erbil, was among the last areas cleared in the autumn of 2017 before Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the defeat of ISIS in Iraq in December. Many of the militants that remain at large fled to the mountains where they appear to be regrouping.
Residents of the city of Khanaqin feel the growing ISIS threat. They are asking for the city’s security situation to be improved.
“Since the security brief of this city has fallen to the [Iraqi] federal forces, the city’s situation has been worsening day by day. My house lies outside Khanaqin. I am standing guard whole nights to protect my house,” Khalid Wali, a Khanaqin resident, told Rudaw.
“The rich people of Khanaqin are leaving the city to the Region fearing for their lives. There is a huge danger to the city,” Sarwar Ali, another resident, told the channel.
Iraqi federal police and Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries have been running the security affairs of the town since the Peshmerga withdrew.
“Through its movements, ISIS intended to create [more problems] and widen their campaigns and enter Khanaqin. Fortunately, as Brigade 110, we managed to defeat their plans. We are always capable of responding to them and on alert,” a Hashd al-Shaabi commander told Rudaw.
Hashd al-Shaabi and the Iraqi army are present on Kubashi heights and Nawdoman and Puka village. There are huge open terrains in east Khanaqin, making the job of the city’s police forces difficult.
“We have set out plans to confront ISIS to protect people and polling stations,” Diyar Shawkat, Khanaqin’s police chief, told Rudaw.
“But we have the problem of a lack of forces on the borders, as areas the Peshmerga left have not been filled in.”
Constant ISIS movements in Diyala and Saladin have forced Iraqi forces to carry out continuous operations, meaning there are no stationary forces in the region, allowing ISIS to commute from Hawija to Naft Khana.
Before the October 16 events, six Peshmerga brigades had controlled all of these areas.