ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – Kirkuk would remain under a security threat as long as the Islamic State (IS) stays in the neighboring city of Hawija, said an official from Kirkuk on Sunday.
The head of the Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC) Rebwar Talabani told Kurdistan24 the delay in liberating Hawija from IS leaves them skeptical about whether it is a military or politically driven tactic.
Talabani said the military operation in Hawija depends on the Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi’s decision, who is also the general commander of all Iraqi security forces.
Hawija is located 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Kirkuk.
Before the occupation of the city by the extremist group in June 2014, Hawija was home to almost 450,000 people, mostly Sunni Arabs.
Kirkuk is home to over 500,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Iraq some of whom fled from Hawija.
According to Talabani, the people of Kirkuk are concerned about the continuous presence of IS in Hawija which poses a threat on the province in general.
He also mentioned Kurdish Peshmerga forces were ready to liberate Hawija whenever they were commanded to do so by the leadership of the Kurdistan Region.
The people of Hawija who have been displaced to Kirkuk are calling for Peshmerga forces to free their city from the insurgent group, Talabani added.
According to Peshmerga commanders, almost 1,000 IS militants remain in Hawija.
“In addition to Peshmerga, about 16,000 Iraqi troops and local militias are expected to participate in the Hawija operation,” a Peshmerga commander, who asked to remain anonymous, told Kurdistan24.
Iraqi forces commanders around Kirkuk declined to give further information about the Hawija operation.
Instead, the troops stated they would wait for the higher command before beginning the offensive.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany
(Soran Kamaran contributed to this report)