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In Iraq, a fragile partnership works to stop Islamic State revival

In Iraq, a fragile partnership works to stop Islamic State revival

LHEIBAN, Iraq (AP) — As a backhoe dug up the bottom to construct trenches, Iraqi troopers scanned the huge farming tracts for militants; not far-off, their Kurdish counterparts did the identical.

The scene earlier this month within the small northern Iraqi farming village of Lheiban was a uncommon occasion of coordination between the federal authorities and the semi-autonomous Kurdish area. The 2 sides had been fortifying a joint place geared toward defending the village towards assaults by the Islamic State group.

Regardless of a long-standing territorial dispute, Baghdad and Iraq’s Kurds are taking steps to work collectively to stop a resurgence of the Islamic State group.

WATCH: Why there was an try to assassinate Iraq’s PM

Whether or not the delicate safety partnership can maintain is the large check within the subsequent chapter of Iraq’s battle with IS. Either side say they want the People to assist maintain it collectively — and so they say that’s one cause why the U.S. navy presence in Iraq is just not going away whilst its fight mission formally ends on Dec. 31.

Iraq declared IS defeated 4 years in the past this month. However the rivalry between Baghdad and the Kurds opened up cracks via which IS crept again: a protracted, disputed zone snaking via 4 provinces — Nineveh, Kirkuk, Salaheddin and Diyala — the place the forces of both facet didn’t enter. In some locations, the zone was as much as 40 kilometers (24 miles) extensive.

Lheiban lies in a single a part of the zone, and a current flurry of IS assaults threatened to empty the realm of its residents, largely Kurds. So for the primary time since 2014, Iraqi troops and peshmerga are establishing joint coordination facilities across the zone to higher police the gaps.

“Daesh took benefit,” mentioned Capt. Nakib Hajar, head of Kurdish peshmerga operations within the space, utilizing the Arabic acronym for IS. Now, he mentioned, “we’re coordinating … It begins right here, on this village.”


Like all residents of Lheiban, Helmet Zahir is drained. In previous months, the cement manufacturing unit employee would spend all night time on the roof of his humble dwelling, his spouse and kids sleeping inside, holding his rifle and ready.

Safety personnel guarding a close-by oil firm — the one ones within the space outfitted with thermal night time imaginative and prescient — would ship the sign after they noticed IS militants making their means down the Qarachok Mountain vary towards Lheiban.

It was as much as Zahir and different armed residents to fend them off.

“We had been deserted. The peshmerga was on one facet, the Iraqi military on one other and neither was intervening,” he mentioned.

A current uptick in assaults on the village, with three within the first week of December alone, prompted lots of the village’s residents, who’re primarily Kurds, to go away. Zahir moved his household to Debaga within the relative security of the Kurdish-run north.

As soon as numbering 65 households, Lheiban now has solely 12 left, mentioned village mukhtar Yadgar Karim.

On Dec. 7, peshmerga and Iraqi forces moved into the village with plans to duplicate coordination elsewhere throughout the disputed territories. Kurdish officers hoped this might immediate villagers to return. Sustaining a Kurdish inhabitants within the space is essential to their territorial claims.

Zahir is just not satisfied. “I got here to test on the scenario solely, I’m too afraid to return,” he mentioned.

The peshmerga have positions all alongside the ridge of the Qarachok mountains. However they don’t have orders to cease IS militants as they cross on assaults or to raid IS positions due to wariness over getting into disputed territory, defined Col. Kahar Jawhar.

Furthermore, the militants transfer at night time, utilizing tunnels and hiding in caves, and the peshmerga lack key tools together with night time imaginative and prescient.

“That’s the reason IS are capable of terrorize the residents, as a result of we will’t see them,” Jawhar mentioned.


The talks to re-establish joint coordination facilities between the Iraqi military and peshmerga started over two years in the past, however fell aside due to deep distrust and variations over tips on how to carve out strains of management.

Beneath present Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, talks had been rekindled, paving the best way for an settlement to arrange six joint coordination facilities in Baghdad, Irbil, and throughout the disputed zone.

Kadhimi additionally agreed to determine two joint brigades to conduct anti-IS operations. However that is awaiting price range approval from Baghdad’s Finance Ministry, mentioned Hajar Ismail, peshmerga head of relations with the coalition.

Between 2009-2014, Iraqi and Kurdish forces carried out joint safety within the northern provinces of Ninevah, Kirkuk and Diyala. However the collapse of the Iraqi military throughout the IS onslaught of 2014 ended the association.

Kurdish authorities managed to solidify management over Kirkuk and different disputed areas throughout this time, even creating oil fields and conducting an unbiased export coverage, to the ire of the federal authorities.

After Iraq declared victory over IS in 2017, Baghdad turned its sights to those areas, launching a navy operation in October 2017 to retake them. Relations soured, with Baghdad chopping off price range allocations to the Kurdish area, rendering it unable to pay public sector staff and money owed to grease firms.

Baghdad was lengthy reluctant to renew safety talks partly as a consequence of political optics within the capital, with many dominant Shiite events deeply mistrustful of Kurdish intentions, in accordance with federal officers.

The Fashionable Mobilization Forces, made up largely of Shiite militia teams near Iran, has opposed joint patrols with the peshmerga. The PMF additionally has a strong presence in lots of areas within the disputed zone.

To date, the PMF has been surprisingly quiet concerning the new joint association, because it copes with a devastating loss in federal elections earlier this yr.

However “in some unspecified time in the future they are going to communicate out towards it,” Zmkan Ali, a senior researcher on the Institute of Regional and Worldwide Research, a analysis middle in Sulaymaniyah.


The street to higher coordination has typically concerned a typical buddy: The U.S.

Iraqi and Kurdish officers mentioned the U.S.-led coalition’s mediation and assist had been key in bringing events to the desk.

“They performed an necessary position, coordinating with us and the Iraqi facet,” mentioned Jawhar, the peshmerga based mostly in Qarachok.

“With out them we wouldn’t communicate — they wouldn’t come right here, and we wouldn’t go there.”

Either side say they nonetheless want the People to play that position.

READ MORE: Iraqis nonetheless blame Powell for position in Iraq battle

U.S. troops quietly stopped direct involvement in fight towards IS months in the past and have since been advising and coaching troops. That position will proceed when the fight mission formally ends on Dec. 31.

The U.S. presence can also be essential in different methods. The People pay the salaries of many peshmerga fighters, amid ongoing price range disputes with Baghdad. Some $240 million in U.S. funding covers the salaries of round 45,000 peshmerga personnel, in accordance with Ismail.

“Fortunately, it will proceed in 2022,” he mentioned.

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