Notes from Kirkuk

ISIS became the biggest problem of the Middle East while it’s advancing its offensive from Mosul to Baghdad since June 2014. ISIS’s increasing effectiveness and the scale of the territory it holds let global and regional players, beginning with the US, take action and compose a strategy against the organization. The coalition composed from the strategy’s scope carries out air strikes in Iraq and Syria under US leadership. However, it is not possible to say that ISIS’s effectiveness is degraded.

Syrian town Kobane has become a hot topic in international media with ISIS offensive for the last 25 days. Meanwhile in Iraq, ISIS threat is still vivid and worrisome that it might expand. In this context, one of the most restless places is Kirkuk. Apart from the political problems in Kirkuk, the surrounding ISIS threat puts great pressure on the city. For the time being, ISIS could not enter the city center, however, the town of Dakuk in south, Tazehurmatu’s villages Beshir and Hawije are under ISIS pressure. Especially in Dakuk, a tense conflict between ISIS and Peshmerga forces takes place. The border line of the conflict between ISIS and Peshmerga is a river between Tazehurmatu and Shamsiya village that comes from Kirkuk Dam. Judeydiye village, which is a part of Kirkuk’s Tazehurmatu town, is the closest conflict point between ISIS and Peshmerga in the southeast of Kirkuk. The distance in this location between two sides is as low as 40-50 meters. If one takes the Kirkuk – Baghdad road to the south, ISIS and Kurdish flags across each other can be easily seen. The close distance of flags, down to 300-400 meters, to the main road underlines how serious the ISIS threat is. Even if the ISIS militias are not seen, the flags themselves cause great panic. This panic turns into a political paranoia and then everything seems to be linked to ISIS, thus, the terror turns into a cycle and feeds itself.

On the other side, security in Kirkuk’s city center is provided by local police and police forces of KDP and PUK without the existence of Peshmerga. Furthermore, “Voluntary Forces” are being established with people who joined fight against ISIS after Ayatollah Sistani’s call in Dakuk and Tazehurmatu to provide security. These voluntary forces are armed by the central government. However, for the moment, there are not such forms of armed structure in the Kirkuk city center. ISIS’s effectiveness and failing to degrade its capabilities cause greater anxiousness among the people. These anxious moments are pumped with rumors that ISIS is about to attack the city. Additionally, the US air strikes in south of Kirkuk also fills the stress. Some people say that some late night US air strikes can be heard, and it is a sign that ISIS is getting closer. The sound of the continuous drone sorties over the city has become something natural for dwellers, even little children are able recognize it. On the one hand, these UAVs make people feel secure, but on the other, they give the impression that ISIS is getting closer. While it is not possible to spot any extreme security measures in the city, when it gets dark checkpoints are formed in streets. Also, some say that police forces make late night raids and capture many sleeping ISIS cells in the city.

ISIS threat affects daily life in Kirkuk. Due to the threat, costs of many products raised in the city. For instance, cost of a can of vegetable oil went up to 32-33 thousand Dinars from 21-22 thousand Dinars. Also in towns under ISIS threat people are unable to go to work and many people do not have an income for the last couple of months. Thus, trade also stopped as a consequence. ISIS’s most significant impact is on education since Iraq’s new educational season has not begun yet. Refugees are dwelling in Kirkuk’s many schools. For these reasons, education cannot get started. A bulk these refugees are Turkmans. The Turkmans who left Telafer, Mosul, Basher, Yengije, Bayat, Karatepe, Jalewle, and Hanekin are placed in schools and mosques in Kirkuk. Their situation is really bad. Charities and foundations especially founded by the Turkmans are trying help with their campaigns. Though they are not enough and a working mechanism has been formed yet.

In conclusion, Kirkuk is under significant ISIS threat while it is waiting solutions for political problems. This situation deepens the instability. For the moment, it is hard to state any steps are taken to relieve people’s social, political and security related concerns. Kirkuk’s people do not believe that these problems will be solved easily. The fact that ISIS has not attacked Kirkuk yet makes people think that they will attack Kirkuk as a last step. An analysis of post-2003 Iraqi politics indicates that Kirkuk will be a key for a potential solution against ISIS. For this reason, in order to open the Kirkuk key to unfailing doors, all sides living in the city bear great responsibility.