Kirkuk still under fire from Daesh

Special Kirkuk still under fire from Daesh
A photo taken on December 20, 2017 shows security forces riding in a vehicle as they chase down demonstrators in a street in the city of Raniya, 130 kilometres north of Sulaymaniyah in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region. (AFP)
Updated 26 December 2017

Kirkuk still under fire from Daesh

Kirkuk still under fire from Daesh

BAGHDAD: Despite its liberation months ago, the former Daesh-stronghold of Hawija and the nearby areas are still under the control of the militants who have been carrying out deadly attacks almost daily on the city of Kirkuk and its outskirts, security and local officials have told Arab News.
A senior police officer and a prominent sheikh were shot dead alongside another six people in western Kirkuk on Sunday when the militants set up a fake checkpoint and murdered the victims, security officials said.
“The militants set up a fake check point between Riyad and Hawija towns and shot dead an officer, his son and six other people,” Sheikh Wassifi Al-A’assi, the commander of Hawija Battalions, told Arab News.
“We went after them and killed six of them (the militants),” Al-A’assi said.
Hawija town which is 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk was the last stronghold of Daesh in northern Iraq and one of the most important for road supplies to the radical group as the road links the three provinces of Kirkuk, Diyala and Salahudeen.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi announced the liberation of Hawija early in October, but the town and its suburbs have not been cleared or inspected since then. Hundreds of militants who fled neighboring areas have taken refuge there, security officials told Arab News.
“Hawija is a very large agricultural town with many waterways and covered tunnels which are used by insurgents to move freely and hide,” a local intelligence officer told Arab News.
“When the (Iraqi security) forces liberated the area, there were not enough troops to clean it,” the officer said. “The region extends to the Hamrin mountains to the north. The militants may infiltrate into Salahudeen or Diyala provinces if they are expelled from Kirkuk, so we need thousands of troops to encircle the area and guard it from several sides.”
Daesh which seized almost a third of Iraqi territory in the summer of 2014, did not fight as expected in some areas, specifically in the north; its fighters either withdrew to nearby areas or surrendered to Kurdish forces in Kurdistan. Daesh’s combat militias in Hawija did not fight the Iraqi troops but withdrew without resistance.
“The attacks will be repeated on Kirkuk and its suburbs. They (the militants) have turned out to be sleeper cells hiding in the agricultural areas,” Sheikh Hatem Al-Taie, the head of the Arabic Council in Kirkuk, told Arab News.
“These (sleeper) cells have been aiming to prevent the return of the displaced people so they (the militants) can maintain control of the area,” Al-Taie said. “All the (local and federal) authorities are aware of these cells but there are not enough troops to clear the area now.”