ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The Iraqi army cannot prevent the Islamic State (IS) from reemerging in the country without the help of Kurdish Peshmerga forces, especially in Kirkuk, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi Parliament recently said.
Shiwan Dawudi, a member of the Iraqi Parliament from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), said even though the militant group had lost territory after their military defeat in Iraq, IS was still active in some areas.
According to the Kurdish MP, the absence of Peshmerga has created a security vacuum in Kirkuk Province where “sleeper cells take care of their needs while IS militants carry out operations.”
“In previous years, Kurdish security forces were responsible for the security of Kirkuk. They had impressive intelligence sources. They knew IS sympathizers,” Dawudi explained.
“Because there are no security forces inside Kirkuk [after Oct. 16], there is a vacuum that IS benefits from,” he added.
Kirkuk, once free of IS’ threat when Peshmerga was in control of security in the province, has seen a spike in violence following the Iraqi army and Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias’ takeover on Oct. 16.
In early December, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a “final victory” against the militant organization, but sporadic attacks across the country continue.
“IS has lost territory, but the organization is still alive, their militants are around,” Dawudi told Al-Monitor. “Some joined sleeper cells, and some hid among the [civilian population].”
The PUK party member pointed to the number of extremists, specifically in Hawija, west of Kirkuk, who remain unaccounted for.
He said there were nearly 2,500 IS militants in Hawija, but after the liberation of the area, only about 300 extremists were captured dead or alive.
“What happened to the rest? Where did they go?” Dawudi asked. “They retreated to the mountains and valleys around Kirkuk. They reorganized after a few months and resumed operations.”
Meanwhile, an Iraqi Member of Parliament also admitted that the absence of Kurdish Peshmerga had left a gap in the security of Kirkuk Province, calling for “joint efforts by Peshmerga forces and [Iraqi] security units as in the days before IS.”
“There is a vacuum because we don’t have Kurdish security forces,” Al-Monitor quoted Iraqi MP Sahawan Abdullah. “IS elements are freely moving [in the area] without encountering [the] Iraqi army.”