Al-HashdAl-Sha’abi spokesmen are reporting over 100 villages liberated, nearly 400 IEDs defused, and some 500 “ISIS militants” have been killed thus far in the offensive on Hawija. This could mean a lot or nothing, given the quality and accuracy of information typically made available by the Iraqi militia units. Meanwhile, the Kurdish referendum has any number of polities riled up and paying attention.
Cover photo by @SimonBuxton
Official military reports have been sparse and anemic in the last few days. This could be because of largely unpublicized attacks by small groups of Daesh militants on targets elsewhere in Iraq. Among these locations, ostensibly already controlled by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are some in Ramadi (including, reportedly Anbar University) and Baghdad.
Meanwhile, according to the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat and other sources, Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi has been formally asked by Iraq’s parliament to deploy security forces to the Kirkuk area (currently under Kurdish control). The request is one of many strong reactions in the region to the recent Kurdish plebiscite on independence (including large-scale Turkish armor “war games” on the border). Not surprisingly, the Kurds have demurred, as indicated by provincial governor Najmiddin Karim’s response indicates.
“There is no need in the deployment of the armed forces, we will not allow the army to enter.”
Initial reports from Monday’s referendum indicate (not surprisingly) the vast majority of 3.4 million ballots cast (over 90%) were in favor of sovereignty.
Ali Avni, a Kurdish politician, told Russian news source Sputnik,
“We had to live through slaughter in Halabja and Anfal for our strife for an independent Kurdish state. We had to shed blood for our independence on the territories of four countries. Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Abadi, Daesh and other forces have been threatening us, trying to force us to abandon our dream. But we do not surrender to any threats.”
All of this takes place with US and other coalition nation military personnel embedded with, advising, and fighting alongside both Kurdish and ISF formations involved in the joint operation to retake Hawija and remaining ISIS-controlled cities.
Drive for Hawija Continues During Kurdish Referendum
Iraqi security forces, backed by the US, Canada, and other Coalition nations, continue their drive on the city of Hawija even as the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum is under way. Hawija is roughly the same distance to the Syrian border as it is the one with Iran, and (again, roughly) equidistant between Baghdad and the international border with Turkey. It is one of a handful of Iraqi towns still under Daesh control and, complicating things even further, lies within a vaguely defined region claimed as the ancestral territory of the Kurds, the Turcoman, the Yazidis (according to some) and probably someone else we’re forgetting.
The first significant objective of that offensive, identified via several media outlets as the town of al-Shirqat, is now under Iraqi control.
Hawija, located southwest of Kirkuk in the Kirkuk Province was once a city of approximately 100,000 people. There are estimated to be approximately 300,000 people in the city and surrounding area, which is part of the most widely publicized disputed territory in the region – mostly all claimed by both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Federal Government of Iraq.
Elements of the Iraqi army, police units and Hashd al-Sha’ab (“Popular Mobilization Units”, or PMUs) are involved in the offensive. They will be attacking in conjunction with Kurdish Peshmerga forces in accordance with an agreement reportedly reached just yesterday. This is apparently occurring while over 12,000 or more polling stations have opened for the 5 + million eligible voters in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani has been urging all Kurds to participate in the referendum, describing Kurdistan’s relationship with Iraq as a failure.
Military personnel from the United States and several other coalition nations are supporting both the Iraqis and the Kurds in the drive on Hawija, and are also on the ground in Syria. This puts them in the middle of a remarkably fraught situation, even by local standards, with all sorts of conflicting and mutually incompatible loyalties, factions, militias, tribal interests, and ethnic concerns complicating the AO.
Look at all the different flags in the vehicle columns rolling toward Hawija. It’s like Mad Max met Game of Thrones.
Officials in Syria, Turkey, and Iran have all denounced what they describe as the Kurds’ “unilateral scheme for independence.” Iran has closed its airspace to flights in and out of the Kurdistan Region, the Arab League has rejected it, and Turkey has threatened to take whatever measures necessary to guarantee its national security, while reportedly dropping all Kurdish television channels from Turkish satellite options.
These and other regional/ethnic considerations will increase volatility in the region to an even more dangerous level than usual. Iran reportedly has military personnel directly involved in the area, and has tremendous influence over many of the PMUs in any event. Turkey has conventional and SOF military personnel inside Iraqi territory, and is a strong supporter of local Turcoman (who themselves claim much the Kurdistan Region as rightfully their own territory).
Somewhere mixed into all this are claims by Sayaed al-Shuhada, a PMU “brigade”, that US troops recently attacked one of their outposts, and allegations by Iraqi and Turcoman sources that the Kurds are forcing Yazidis to vote yes on the referendum. And let us not forget an announcement by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that they would be conducting war games along the border, shortly before Alsumaria News reported Iranian artillery shelling Guoman, which is controlled by the KRG and lies northeast of Erbil.
Meanwhile the sort of depravity portrayed in these images (purportedly taken in IS-controlled cities*) continues largely unabated.
*These images and others like them pushed out by Amaq as well as social media accounts claiming to be in support of Daesh, others against the (such as @daeshkiller). Some of those accounts are now deleted, but the imagery has proliferated, including into some elements of the mainstream media — they are of unknown specific provenance or location.
Some people just need killing — that is an immutable fact. Some people deserve it enough that every. other. quarrel. ought to be put on hold until that killin’ is done.
You can read local reports on the referendum here on Kurdistan 24, or on IraqiNews.com. You can find more on Alsumaria News World Report and their live broadcast — if nothing else their soap operas are pretty interesting. Israel-based Haaretz is posting live updates on the referendum here. South Front is another good source of material, as is SITE.
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