|(New York Times)|
The London School of Economics and Political Science’s Middle East Centre recently by Zmkan Ali Saleem, Mac Skelton and Christine van den Toorn on security in the disputed territories of northeast Diyala after federal forces took over in the wake of the 2017 Kurdish independence referendum. There are now various security forces working separately of each other, which is helping the Islamic State rebuild in the area.
One area focused upon was Jalawla which is split between the Kurds and Hashd. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) used to run the district. In October 2017 Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi sent federal forces into the area after the Kurdish independence referendum. Most of those were Hashd units from the Badr Organization that controlled the rest of Diyala. Since Badr and the PUK were both close to Iran, Tehran negotiated a deal between the two over administration. Services would be shared between Baghdad and Irbil, while security would be handled by the Iraqi army and Badr units, but PUK Asayesh and intelligence forces could be at checkpoints. The problem was that while control passed to the central government, it did not provide enough forces to adequately patrol it. There is also a lack of cooperation between the army and the Hashd. Those areas with little presence are now open to the Islamic State. It is nowin the district as a result.
Jalawla is next to Khanaqin and facing many of the same problems. In November 2014, the area was cleared of IS elements. The PUK and Badr then made a deal allowing the Kurds to have Jalawla and Badr to control Sadiya next door. The Peshmerga then began accusing local Arabs, especially from the Karawi tribe of supporting the insurgents. That tribe had also opposed the Kurdish presence in the district for decades. As a result, the Kurds allowed few displaced members of the tribe to return. In October 2017, the government take over resulted in the PUK being pushed out by Badr and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH). AAH then attempted to exploit complaints by the Karawi against the Kurds and recruited them into local tribal Hashd units that now patrol the area. There are few Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in the district, with the Hashd being in control. That has allowed the Hashd to exploit their situation to raise money. For example, they collect taxes on trucking passing through the district as well as charge fees to pass through checkpoints. The change in security from the Peshmerga to Hashd has also created gaps in coverage. Badr, AAH and its tribal units may not coordinate. IS is now exploiting that situation, just like it is in Khanaqin resulting in more attacks there.
The problems in northeast Diyala are happening in other areas of Iraq as well. The changeover in security from the Peshmerga to various federal government forces occurred across all of the disputed territories of Iraq. There were other sections of the country that were also faced with the problem of many different security units working independently of each other with no real coordination between them providing a fractured security environment. The Islamic State is taking advantage of all of these issues to rebuild and expand, especially in the rural areas, which had the least coverage by the government to begin with.
Ali Saleem, Zmkan, Skelton, Mac and van den Toorn, Christine, “Security and Governance in the Disputed Territories Under a Fractured GOI: The Case of Northern Diyala,” Middle East Centre Blog, 11/14/18