Peshmerga entering Jalawla shortly after recapture last month.
By Nawzad Mahmoud and Bahroz Fraidon
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – Jalawla has turned into a lawless ghost town since recapture last month from Islamic State (ISIS) militants by a combined force of Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite militias.
And after the fighting in the nearby town of Sadia, nothing is left standing there, witnesses say.
Security measures have been tightened in and around Jalawla: a Rudaw crew needed to present a permission letter from a senior official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to enter, which they did in the company of three Peshmerga soldiers.
Suddenly, another vehicle arrived at the checkpoint and was waved through. It was the convoy of an Iranian military leader, one of the Peshmerga guards explained: “no one can stop them for inspection.”
Inside Jalawla, the streets were steeped in eerie silence, except for a number of Shiite militiamen and Kurdish Peshmergas. The Shiite militants are from various militias, including Badr, Sadr and Khorasani.
“Three hundred members of the Khorasani brigade have arrived in Jalawla,” said Sheikh Jafar Mustafa, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Khanaqin. He said they were being supervised by someone named Seyyed Ali, but was unsure if he was Iranian or Iraqi.
Ahmed Latif, a Peshmerga commander in the area, said that Kurdish soldiers had paid with many lives for Jalawla’s liberation, but it was the Shiite militias that had overrun the town. He said 144 Peshmergas were killed and 387 wounded.
“The Shiite militias only lost 17 men but they have covered the town with their flags,” he complained.
Mustafa, the KDP official, said that, “Due to the bombing and burning of houses, nothing stands in Sadia.”
Lawlessness prevails in Jalawla: the doors and windows of shops are broken, with some militias looting stories.
“Shiite militias are taking all of the good things for themselves,” said a Kurd inside Jalawla – interrupted by a Shiite militiaman who angrily protested that the militants were protecting the shops.
Mustafa said, “Unfortunately there is so much looting going on. The Shiites are taking everything as spoils of war.”
Latif, the Peshmerga commander, said that Shiites were not the only ones doing the looting.
“Shiites, Peshmergas and other people have carried out looting. We have evidence that some people are looting under the name of Peshmerga to tarnish their reputation,” he said. “Of course, some Peshmergas were involved in looting. We have confiscated the looted goods in Sharazor,” Latif said.
The Peshmerga and militias seem to have tired of each other, but seem to prefer to keep out of each other’s way at this time.
Adnan Hama Mina, a PUK commander on the Garmasir frontline, warned that all of Jalawla has been booby trapped by ISIS.
Following the withdrawal of Peshmerga forces from Jalawla on August 10, the town fell to ISIS. On November 23, after 15 hours of fighting, the Peshmerga were able to regain control of Jalawla.
As Kurdish towns and cities celebrated the collapse of the Baath regime in 2003, residents of Jalawla had no cause to celebrate: their town became a base for Baathist supporters who were against the new government and always targeted Kurdish residents of Jalawla. As a result, a large number of Kurds moved out.
Normally, the population of Jalawla is estimated at 80,000, but not a single family lives in the town anymore.
Anwar Hussein, mayor of Jalawla, said: “We can’t estimate the amount of destruction. We have to go back there and form a committee to do that for us.”
“Eighty percent of the houses and stores are looted and destroyed and most of the government buildings are bombed. All of the government’s vehicles, documents, equipment are either stolen or destroyed. We have to restart at zero point,” Hussein said in despair.
“Firefighters managed to take four vehicles with them to Garmian. Other than that, nothing was saved,” he lamented.