In Rudaw

Suspected ISIS attack targets Kakai Kurds near Iraq-Iran border

Gunmen stormed a village near Iraq’s border with Iran Saturday, killing at least seven people and injuring four others, according to local officials.

Kadhim Pirouli, a member of a village council in Khanaqin, told Rudaw the attack targeted a family of Kakai Kurds, killing four, and two other Kakai Kurds from the same village, as well as a member of security forces who responded to the firefight.

“Units of federal police and Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) later arrived at the scene and a fight broke out,” Pirouli said. “Four other people were wounded, after the gunmen targeted the people and Iraqi units in the area with snipers,” Pirouli added.

Hussein Ali, the deputy head of Khanaqin General Hospital, told Rudaw that the people wounded in Saturday night’s attack in the village of Dara were transferred to Baquba to receive medical treatment.

“Two of the injured were sent to Baquba to receive treatment and the wounds of the other three were not critical,” Ali said.

Since 2014, Kakai Kurds have been targeted by the Islamic State (ISIS) because of their religious beliefs. Many now live near Kirkuk, Khanaqin, and in the Nineveh Plains. They have fought alongside Kurdish Peshmerga units during the counter-ISIS campaign that began in 2016.

Located northeast of Khanaqin in Iraq’s eastern Diyala province, the area is populated by members of the Kakai minority who are ethnically Kurdish and hold unique spiritual beliefs, with roots that cross over borders that today delineate Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan.

The Ministry of Peshmerga released a statement on Sunday accusing the Islamic State (ISIS) of being behind the attack, and called on the Iraqi Security  forces to protect all civilians in the area.

“The Ministry of Peshmerga strongly condemns such heinous crimes and calls on the Iraqi forces to protect the homes of innocent civilians, regardless of their ethnic or religious differences, and to ensure the safety of the people living within these areas,” the statement read.

“We have repeatedly warned of the absence of Peshmerga forces in these areas and the threat of a security vacuum between the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army,” the statement added.

The ministry also called on Baghdad to resume their talks with Peshmerga forces in Erbil to fill the security vacuum in the disputed territories.

Khanaqin lies in one of the several sparsely-populated areas of Iraq disputed between the central government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil. Because the final status of the ethnically diverse and resource-rich areas was never permanently settled, a vacuum of uncertainty has opened up that ISIS has been able to exploit to continue launching attacks.

ISIS first swept into Iraq in 2014, capturing cities across northern and central Iraq including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the capital of Nineveh province. At the height of its power, ISIS controlled a contiguous area equivalent in size to the United Kingdom. During their occupation of Iraq and Syria, ISIS subjected as many ten million people to an extreme and violent interpretation of Islam.

Although Baghdad declared the territorial defeat of the group in Iraq in December 2017, its remnants have since reverted to insurgency tactics; ambushing security forces, kidnapping and executing suspected informants, and extorting money from vulnerable rural populations.

“ISIS used to hold 110,000 square kilometers of territory. Now they hold zero, and we assess that they cannot hold physical territory, but they are able to have a low level insurgency where they can conduct crimes and harass people and [launch] small attacks,” US Army Colonel Myles Caggins III told Rudaw English in an interview in April.

“We know that they are conducting criminal activity, mostly to get money. ISIS is broke. They can’t pay their fighters like they used to be able to pay their fighters. So they’re stealing cows, they’re stealing sheep,” said Col. Caggins, spokesperson for the anti-ISIS coalition forces. “They can hide in caves and then come out of the caves at night and harass people in the villages.”

ISIS has always referred to Kakais as “infidels” in its weekly al-Naba newsletter, which is usually published by the group’s propaganda channels on Telegram messaging app.

“Our security units on May 5 have detained the Mukhtar of Mekhas village who is from Kakai infidel community, and after investigation with him, he was killed by our fighters’ bullets,” reads a statement published in al-Naba newsletter on May 9.

Ahmed Mustafa, a commander of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces told Rudaw on Saturday that ISIS militants are active in the area, but other militias who are against Kurds’ presence in the disputed areas are also present in the area.

“It is true that there are Daesh [ISIS] militants in the area and they are active, but targeting Kurds and deserting Kurdish villages by force and killing Kurds in these areas is also the job of other militias who harbour hatred toward Kurds’ existence in these areas,” Mustafa said.

Jabar Yawar, chief of staff at the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, warned earlier in April that the ISIS resurgence has been underway for some time.

According to Peshmerga’s monitoring of ISIS, the group has increased its activities in 2018 and 2019, especially in Kurdish-poulated areas outside KRG administration, including Diyala, Hamrin, Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, and Qarachogh. “In Qarachogh, they even established bases,” Yawar told Rudaw.

Talks are underway between Erbil and Baghdad to resume security cooperation in the disputed territories to stop the ISIS resurgence in the area. Source