Peshmerga forces in the Mosul offensive. File photo.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - As territories controlled by ISIS in Iraq continue to shrink in the battle to liberate the militants’ stronghold of Mosul that began more than a fortnight ago, Iraq’s autonomous Kurds appear to be bringing a vast majority of the so-called “disputed areas” with Baghdad under their control once the operation is over.
Bestun Fayaq, an MP who is on the Kurdistan Parliament’s committee that looks after the disputed territories, told Rudaw that at least 90 percent of territories claimed by the Kurds will be under Peshmerga control as the Kurdish forces advance toward Mosul.
“By controlling a small portion of Kurdish territory from the Nineveh Plains, which is yet to be liberated, more than 90 percent of the Kurdistan Region’s lands from Nineveh will come under Kurdish control," he explained, adding that the disputed areas are those described in the Iraqi constitution’s Article 140.
After ISIS swept into a third of Iraq more than two years ago, wide swaths of land claimed both by the Kurds and Baghdad for 13 years also fell to ISIS. But the militants’ multiple defeats on the battlefields allowed the Kurds to regain control over the territories.
Gwer and Makhmour are two key areas for Kurdistan which were forcefully annexed to Nineveh Province by the ex-Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.
A Kurdish commander running two war fronts told Rudaw that the Peshmerga have fully accomplished their missions by evicting ISIS from Kurdish-claimed territories southeast of Mosul.
“[Ninety eight percent] of the Kurdish land in the Makhmour and Gwer regions have been liberated by the Peshmerga and what is left is seven villages, which constitutes only two percent of the territories,” Sirwan Barzani, commander of the Peshmerga forces on the Gwer-Makhmour front, told Rudaw.
Barzani insisted that the Peshmerga “will not withdraw from territories they have liberated, and to protect them, we have dug trenches.”
But in the Garmaser region that falls in eastern and southeastern Kirkuk, most of the disputed territories are under the Iraqi army’s control.
The head of the Garmaser front believes that the restoration of these areas into Kurdistan needs “political agreements.”
“Areas 90 kilometers wide and 130 kilometers long on the Garmaser front are held by the Iraqi armed forces, including Saadia, Mandali and part of Khanaqin town," said Mahmood Sangawi, who is in charge of the front.
According to a 2014 decree issued by the Kurdish Parliament, the Peshmerga should stay in areas they bring under their control.
“The Peshmerga could stay in areas they liberate from ISIS,” added Fayeq, believing that “there must be an assurance that they are not retaken from the Kurdistan Region after ISIS" is finished.
In the meantime, the Peshmerga continue to advance towards the outskirts of Mosul city, with some units only five kilometers from the city center, military commanders told Rudaw Sunday.
"We have accomplished our mission and now we are about five to six kilometers away from Mosul," said Peshmerga commander Sihad Barzani.