"The Qubeiba village is in front of us, there is a large flag of Daesh. This suggests that an important ‘emir’ is in the area," Hussein Yazdanpanah, the commander of the military wing of the Kurdish Freedom Party (PAK), said, pointing ahead.
PESHMERGA AT GATE OF DAESH
More than three years ago, Daesh captured Hawija and its vicinity in the northern province of Kirkuk. The town became one of the main Daesh strongholds in Iraq.
The area is rich in oil and processing plants, and also played an important transport role for Daesh, as Hawija was on the way between the Daesh "vilayets" in Tikrit and Baiji, from where you can get to Mosul and the Iraqi borders with Syria and Turkey.
Despite the fact that in October 2016, the Iraqi government announced the beginning of the operation "We Are Coming, Nineveh" in order to liberate Mosul, and Tikrit and Baiji had been freed before, Hawija was waiting and is waiting for its freedom. With the fall of Mosul in July, the terrorists have moved their main headquarters to Hawija.
"The distance between the Peshmerga forces concentrated here and Daesh before us to the right and left varies from a mile to three miles," Yazdanpanah stated.
These units of Peshmerga are ordered to protect the borders of the Hawija region. Fighters are, in particular, at the southern outskirts of the town of Dibis.
According to the commander, as the PAK forces were working on the cleanup of the earthen road near the latest positions they had taken, the militants were placing bombs and mines every night to impede their progress. The capture of the part of the Batiwa mountain chain to the north of Hawija by the Kurds frayed terrorists’ nerves.
"Any army that captures the mountains rises above the region, and the Batiwa mountains are like a belt encompassing Kirkuk and the town of Dibis," Yazdanpanah explained.
He added that the entire region was oil-rich, with dozens of oil wells, companies and refiners located here. The Kurds managed to defend both the oil facilities and the people of Kirkuk, regaining control over at least a part of the mountain range, he says, adding that the operations were launched shortly after the capture of Hawija and were dubbed Scorpio 1, 2 and 3.
"The ferocity of the fighting in the area shows how important it is for Daesh, as well as for us. Months after Daesh has captured Hawija and its surroundings, the operations under our command started in the Batiwa mountains, dubbed Scorpio 1, in November 2014, and we managed to liberate the positions in accordance with our plan," the commander said.
The Scorpio 2 in March 2014 was also successful.
"The operation led to regaining the territories of Mullah Abdullah villages, but the Daesh terrorists stayed in the mountains, they are digging tunnels to break through our lines," Yazdanpanah noted.
This tactic is dangerous both for the Kurdish forces and the civilians, as the terrorists can reach Kirkuk and Dibis through the tunnels to carry out terrorist attack and can come as close as several kilometers to the first passage to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
"Daesh groups cannot carry out attacks against us, because their movements are controlled by the intelligence and military air forces. So they have started to use a new method of attacking in small groups, and they manage to hide and arrive to conduct suicide attacks and terrorist acts in Kirkuk, Dibis and surrounding villages," the commander stressed.
CONFIGURATION OF FORCES
"The Hawija basin before us consists of the town Hawija, four suburbs and 500 villages, and they are all controlled by the terrorist group," Yazdanpanah said.
He claims that civilian population has left the villages closest to the units, and that Peshmerga helped them to find asylum.
"The territories across the Peshmerga positions became free of civilians. We accepted thousands of refugees since we had liberated this region in 2015. One average one thousand people were coming per day, and we searched and checked them before transporting them to camps in Kirkuk," the commander said, adding that no civilians are coming out to Peshmerga now, as everyone left in the villages are Daesh terrorists.
Yazdanpanah emphasized that the region was of special importance for his people.
"Thus region was part of the Sykes-Picot Agreement [of 1916 on agreeing on spheres of interests in the Middle East between the United Kingdom and France, assented to by Russia], and over the past 90 years the agreement has brought a lot of suffering for the Kurdish people," he explained, adding that the Kurds insist on its complete liberation and "will not leave a single meter of it."
The commander is an active supporter of the independence referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan, stressing that Kirkuk is its integral part.
"Kirkuk is completely Kurdish, and we will all take part in the independence referendum of the Kurdistan region, and we will ace any force, whether it’s Daesh or Hashd Shaabi (Shia militia), if they want to step over our rights, our territory and our dignity," Yazdanpanah outlined.
Iraqi Kurdistan intends to hold the independence referendum on September 25 despite criticism from Baghdad, Tehran and Washington.