A New Northern Frontline Where Iraq’s Kurds And Shiites Are Facing Off
In Iraq’s northern disputed territories, minor skirmishes, rumours of looting, arson and speculation about political power plays have locals frightened of a new front line near Iraqi Kurdistan. It has nothing to do with extremists, rather it’s about the Iraqi Kurdish military and the increasingly troublesome and lawless Shiite Muslim militias.
For a long time the Iraqi Kurdish military didn’t have any reason to pick a fight with the Shiite Muslim Arabs in the rest of the country. The Iraqi Kurdish have never fought about Iraq’s so-called “disputed areas” with Shiite Muslims.
Rather these areas were often populated by local Sunni Muslims. And the frontiers of any such scraps over disputed areas – that is, land that the Iraqi Kurdish feel belongs to their semi-autonomous zones but which Baghdad says belongs to Iraq proper – have been a long way from southern Iraq, where the majority of the Shiite Muslim population lives.
However recent fighting with the extremist group known as the Islamic State has completely changed this state of affairs. In late November Iraqi Kurdish military and Iraqi armed forces, including the Iraqi army and less official fighting groups, the Shiite Muslim militias, managed to regain the areas of Sadiya and Jalawla near Khanaqin.
Both of these areas are disputed territories. Jalawla, for example, had hosted a mainly Arab population before the Islamic State, or IS, group captured it. But Iraqi Kurdistan had also argued that it was a mainly Kurdish town before the 1970s.
According to the latest movements, the Iraqi Kurdish military are currently present only in Jalawla. Meanwhile other parts of the disputed area, including Sadiya, are being occupied by various Shiite Muslim militias from further down the country, including the Badr Brigade, the League of the Righteous and the Khorasani Brigades. Iraqi Kurdish military sources say these militias are cooperating with the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, with whom they have close connections.