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Kurdish commanders: ISIS still poses threat to Kirkuk

By Rudaw 30/1/2016
Kurdish commanders: ISIS still poses threat to Kirkuk
Peshmerga soldiers posing behind a sand-bag position in Kirkuk.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - A year after the Islamic State (ISIS) launched a multi-pronged massive assault on the Peshmerga front-lines in the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk the Peshmerga launched counter offensives and regained large swaths of territory from that group. But, Kurdish commanders believe that ISIS still poses a threat to Kirkuk. 

"Undoubtedly, as long as ISIS is present in the area they may pose serious threats on Iraq in general and the Kurdistan region in particular," said Jabar Yawar, the Peshmerga ministry's chief of staff. "I dare say from Shingal all the way down to Duz district we still face potential threats from ISIS," he added in reference to the Duz district in Salahadin province, southern Kirkuk.

The Peshmerga has fought ISIS through three different phases: At first they were solely on the defensive against the group. After gaining momentum they managed to launch offensives. Now, after reclaiming large swaths of territory they have begun to dig-in, reinforcing and fortifying their front-lines by digging trenches and erecting security fences. 

A Kurdish commander summed up the success the Peshmerga have had against ISIS on the battlefield around Kirkuk: "from the Kharabarut [heights] all the way down to [the village of] Zarga we have cleared all the lands from ISIS," said Wasta Rasoul, commander of the Peshmerga forces on the southern Kirkuk front.

Rasoul added that the recapture of these areas accounts for 150 kilometers, containing "sixty two villages and several complexes as well as the township of Mala Abdulla," which were used as safe havens by the group's militants.

"[We] have defeated the myth of ISIS towards the Peshmerga," he exclaimed proudly. 

However, despite all the victories the Peshmerga achieved against ISIS on the Kirkuk front Iraq's second largest populated district of Hawija remains under ISIS. Kemal Kirkuk, commander of Kirkuk's eastern front, has expressed concern that the group has been heavily fortifying its position there. 

"We have considered a fact that they are no longer capable of occupying any other important territory from the Peshmerga," Kirkuki explained, but "unless Mosul and Hawija  is liberated, unless the Peshmerga has the full control of the ISIS-held territories that are part of the Kurdistan land, ISIS is dangerous."

The distance between Peshmerga watching posts and ISIS militants in Hawija is about 15 kilometers.

Earlier this week a Peshmerga official told Rudaw that ISIS had brought in forces from Mosul to its occupied districts of Hawija, Riaz and Rashad in southern Kirkuk as reinforcements.

"ISIS has brought in forces from Mosul to Hawija in order to make advances into Peshmerga positions," said Brig. Mohammed Regr, commander of the Kirkuk Peshmerga forces.

An estimated 6000 ISIS militants have been killed after the group launched a major offensive against the Peshmerga in late January last year. Since then 60 villages, three complexes and a sub-district in Kirkuk outskirts have been retaken from the group according to date from the Southern Kirkuk operation center. 
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