KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The Hawija military offensive will likely be launched after the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum on Sep. 25, former Parliament Speaker and current senior Peshmerga Commander Kamal Kirkuki said on Monday.
Hawija, located in southwestern Kirkuk Province, is an Arab-populated city which has been an important stronghold for the Islamic State (IS) since June 2014.
Iraqi and Peshmerga forces have regained control over most of the territory the militant group occupied since 2014. Hawija is one of a few areas in Iraq remaining in the hands of IS.
As Iraqi forces prepare to liberate the entire province of Nineveh in the coming days, the Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly mentioned the military operation to retake Hawija will be launched “soon.”
In an interview with Kurdistan 24, Kirkuki said the offensive to free Hawija was likely to begin after Kurdistan’s referendum on independence.
The vote will also include the disputed territories, including Kirkuk Province, while Hawija is less likely to be part of it.
When asked whether residents in Hawija would participate in the referendum, Kirkuki noted the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the city would vote in Kirkuk.
Kirkuk is home to over half a million IDPs who fled the threat of the extremist group from neighboring provinces.
The Governor of Kirkuk Najmaldin Karim recently stated that Iraqi forces cannot liberate Hawija without the participation of the Peshmerga forces.
Karim noted the Peshmerga share front lines with Hawija from three sides in the north, east, and southeast of the city.
The Arab Council in Kirkuk recently warned that inhabitants in Hawija “suffer from drought, murder, and displacement in the most extreme forms which are closer to genocide.”
The Council also called on Abadi, the Peshmerga forces, the US-led coalition, and the international community to launch the Hawija battle soon.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany