Residents, officials say security in disputed Makhmour deteriorating due to ISIS, militias

Iraqi security forces guard Makhmour’s main road. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Iraqi security forces guard Makhmour’s main road. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In northern Iraq's disputed town of Makhmour, security has recently been deteriorating due to threats posed both by ISIS and Iran-backed militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) there, according to multiple residents and officials who spoke to Kurdistan 24.

“The absence of Peshmerga forces has created a serious security lapse in the area and the people living here cannot rely on Iraqi forces and armed militias for protection,” said resident Dyar Mala-Khidr.

Following the emergence of ISIS in 2014, Kurdish Peshmerga forces held their front lines in the areas disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, often preventing sleeper cells from entering their territory despite the terrorist organization controlling large tracts of adjacent land.

Security in those regions, however, significantly deteriorated after Iraqi forces and PMF militias overran Kirkuk and other disputed territories and drove the Kurdish forces from them in response to the Kurdistan Region’s September 2017 independence referendum.

Sirwan Rozhbayani, the Deputy Governor of Nineveh province, expressed concern regarding the current military-like state of rule in Makhmour at the hands of armed groups that regularly display hostility toward ethnic Kurds.

“We support the ongoing dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad for establishing a joint force between both sides to those areas witnessing ISIS activities, including kidnappings and assassinations,” he said.

Officials from Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan Region reached a preliminary agreement on the formation of two joint brigades from both federal Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga security forces to be deployed to disputed territories where ISIS continues to exploit the lack of unified military strategy there.

However, so far, few tangible results have been seen.

Lieutenant-General Jamal Iminki, the Peshmerga's Chief of Staff, told Kurdistan 24 that the dialogue is still ongoing to form the joint brigades, but that “six joint operation commands have already been established for coordination between Peshmerga forces and Iraqi Security Forces, as well as two main command centers in Erbil and Baghdad, with four sub-coordination centers in Khanaqin, Kirkuk, Makhmour, and Sinjar (Shingal).”

On Oct. 17, 2017, the day after Iraqi forces took over Kirkuk, Peshmerga forces withdrew from Makhmour and Gwer, both south of Erbil.

After PMF militias entered Makhmour, ISIS fighters returned nearby and still threaten local villagers and farmers, more than three years after the federal government in Baghdad declared a military victory over the group in late 2017.