KHANAQIN, Kurdistan Region – Residents of Khanaqin say the city is in mourning – life is gone from the streets, people no longer stay out late and socialize, but prefer to remain in their homes as an air of foreboding hangs over the city now under the control of Iraqi forces.
Khanaqin, located on the Iranian border in Diyala province, is part of the disputed territories claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad. The town’s population is mainly Kurdish, with a large numbers of Turkmen and some Arabs. It had been under Kurdish administration since 2003.
Iraqi forces and Shiite militias took control of the city on October 17.
“It feels as if dark clouds have overcast the city and made everybody sad. People are afraid of the future,” said resident Rizgar Mahmood.
The Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi withdrew from the city, on order from the prime minister, just a day after Iraqi forces entered.
“There is a degree of calm in the city at the moment” after initial protests and some deaths, said Salam Abdullah, a writer in Khanaqin. Although he notes that Kurdistan flags have been taken down from many schools and one was changed to Arabic language.
Women are especially concerned for their safety said civil activist Berivan Gerdi. “Women would in the past stay until late at night. We do not dare go out as women are subject to most of the incidents. Khanaqin is more like a city in mourning.”
Residents are asking for the return of Kurdish forces or an arrangement for security to be jointly provided by Peshmerga, security forces, and the Iraqi army.