Najmaldin Karim: Islamic State is resurgent, dominated by locals

Kirkuk Governor

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – Kurdistan 24 spoke recently with Najmaldin Karim, who served as Governor of Kirkuk Province until Baghdad’s assault last October in an attack engineered by Qasim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Gov. Karim continues to keep a close watch on Kirkuk, where he was born and raised and became Governor in 2011 following a vote by Kirkuk’s Provincial Council. As Karim noted, that is the official, legal procedure for naming a governor in Iraq, and he is the last individual to be elected Governor by the Provincial Council.

Karim told Kurdistan 24 last week that the situation in Kirkuk “has never been this bad since 2003,” adding “there is no rule of law.”

“Was the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) the problem?” Kurdistan 24 responded.

“Really, nobody knows who is in charge in Kirkuk,” he replied. “Hashd al-Shaabi is a name for all of them. But then among the Hashd al-Shaabi, you have the Badr Organization,” as well as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Hezbollah, Jund al-Islam, and Saraya al-Salam.

They are all “acting at their own will,” Karim continued. They “take bribes from people. They extort people, kidnapping, all that happens,” he said, before turning to the other half of the problem.

“And then there is the revival of [the Islamic State (IS)],” Karim stated.

Following the liberation of Mosul, Iraqi forces turned to Hawija, in Kirkuk Province, but “there was no resistance in Hawija,” he explained.

“(IS) in Hawija and its surroundings were all local people,” Karim continued. Some of those people actually entered Kirkuk city, before Hawija’s liberation, under the guise of coming in with the IDPs.”

“These are all [IS] sleeper cells in Kirkuk, and they’re not so asleep anymore,” he said. Three of the province’s four districts—Hawija, Daquq, and Dibis—areas “are under the control of [IS] at night.”

“Government forces are nowhere to be seen,” he continued. “They go into their barracks and just stay there until morning, while [IS] is active.”

“The Kurdish forces that used to protect Kirkuk no longer have any authority,” Karim explained. “They don’t exist there.”

Surprised at such a grim account of the situation, Kurdistan 24 asked, “You’re telling us that [IS] controls a substantial portion of Kirkuk Province at night?”

“Yes,” Karim replied. “Not just Kirkuk—in Diyala Province, in Salahuddin Province,” as well. “If people think that [IS] has been wiped out, and it is finished, there is nothing further from the truth.”

“You see all the explosions that happen in Kirkuk, in Tikrit, and also in Nineveh Province,” he noted, illustrating his point.

Thus, there appears to be a widespread misunderstanding of IS—its nature and composition, at least in Kirkuk, and probably more broadly in Iraq.

As a local leader, centrally involved in combatting the terrorist organization, Karim knows whereof he speaks. “99 percent [of IS in Kirkuk] are local people from Kirkuk,” he said.

“People need to understand that before [IS], there was terrorism—in Baghdad, in Kirkuk, in Ramadi, in Fallujah, in Mosul. In all of these places, there were terrorists.”

“Who were these terrorists?” Karim continued. “They were al-Qaeda, Naqshbandis, who are remnants of the Ba’athists, Ansar al-Sunnah, Jund al-Islam—all these banded together under the leadership of [IS].”

“They’re all local people,” he stated, again, for emphasis.

Karim explained that Kurdish authorities had proof of that. “Peshmerga fought [IS] bravely, and hundreds of them were killed,” he continued. “We have their pictures, their DNA. They’re all from the area.”

In a nod to the conventional wisdom, Karim said, “Maybe, in Syria, it was different. They came through Turkey—Islamists, but in the Kirkuk region, specifically where I’m familiar with, they’re all local.”

“They’re all local people?,” Kurdistan 24 responded. “They take this al-Qaeda, Jund al Islam or whatever, grow a beard, put on a dishdasha, and present themselves as Islamic, although the threat is local?”

“Exactly!,” Karim responded. “What was called the liberation of Hawija,” he said, “was basically these people shaved, threw the dishdasha, threw their things, went to their homes, and now they’re being reactivated and are active again.”

Kurdistan 24 discussed Karim’s description of IS with Paul Davis, a former Pentagon analyst and now a Senior Fellow at Soran University.

Davis found it very interesting, and he cited Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist, whose work is still taught in US (and other) military colleges—2,500 years after it was written.

“Know the enemy,” Sun Tzu famously wrote. “You cannot ignore that basic principle and reasonably expect to win,” Davis said, adding another phrase for which Sun Tzu is famous: “all war is deception.”

Editing by Nadia Riva