Coalition official says militias should focus on ISIS rather than Kurdistan


Col. Williams underlined that the US-led coalition will work with Iraqi security force partners and Kurdish security partners to address “outlaw militia groups.” Col. David Williams, the Director of the Kurdistan Coordination Center (KCC), during an interview with Kurdistan 24.

  1. März 2021 – Erbil (Kurdistan 24) – US Army Col. David Williams, the Erbil-based Director of the Kurdistan Coordination Center, told Kurdistan 24 on Tuesday that he doesn’t understand why ‘outlaw’ groups attack the Kurdistan Region rather than the Islamic State group.

The coordination center was established six years ago, as the fight against the so-called Islamic State began.

“I just wonder why these outlaw militia groups are firing rockets into downtown Erbil and into the Erbil International Airport and into [the positions of] Peshmerga forces, I just don’t understand why they are attacking them and us,” he said, referring to the international coalition.

“They are acting like ISIS in some ways, these outlaw militia groups,” he added.

On Feb. 15, at least two dozen rockets targeted Erbil International Airport – home to US-led coalition personnel – with some striking a residential area of the Kurdistan Region’s capital city. Several people were wounded and two killed, including a Filipino military contractor and a civilian man.

Soon after the attack, an Iran-backed group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed responsibility for the attack. Iran itself has denied involvement.

On Monday unknown forces fired at least three rockets that landed near Peshmerga forces stationed along the border of the Kurdistan Region’s Erbil province and Kirkuk, which is disputed between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi federal government.

Williams underlined that rocket attacks in civilian areas and near the airport are not only a threat to the coalition, Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, but the “entire Kurdistan community.”

“Why don’t they use their rockets and attack ISIS, instead of attacking Peshmerga? I just don’t understand that.”

Williams underlined that the coalition is going to work with its Iraqi and Kurdish security partners to address the issue of militias.

Addressing Security Gaps

Following the emergence of the Islamic State group in 2014, Kurdish Peshmerga forces held their front lines in the areas disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, preventing the terrorist group from entering their territory despite the terrorist organization controlling adjacent land.

Security in those regions, however, significantly deteriorated after Iraqi forces and Iran-backed Shia militias overran Kirkuk and other disputed territories, driving out Kurdish forces in response to the Kurdistan Region’s 2017 independence referendum.

Williams underlined the importance of Kurdish and Iraqi forces working together to close the gaps in those areas to counter the militias.

“One of the keys is really ensuring that those two groups work together, and close some of these gaps in some of these disputed areas, and through the establishment of joint coordination centers and conduct joint operations against these outlaw militia groups, and the coalition can enable that,” he said.

“We can provide intelligence support, we can provide strike aircraft, we can provide logistics support operational advising. So those are a variety of tools.”

Joint Kurdish-Iraqi Cooperation

He further explained that the coalition wants Kurdish and Iraqi forces to “conduct more discussions and establish those joint coordination centers.”

“We’ve seen some real progress,” he said.

“We’ve been working on that for a long time to get that coordination between the Peshmerga and the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces]. We’re making good progress on that,” Col. Wayne Marotto, the spokesperson for the coalition, told Kurdistan 24 in a separate interview.

He added there is no timeline yet for establishing joint coordination centers in disputed territories but “we really commend both sides in improving that relationship and that renewed willingness to coordinate on both parts of the government and their security forces.”

“We don’t want any sanctuary for the Daesh fighters,” he stressed.

Williams added that they have recently seen Iraqi and Kurdish forces attempting to close these security gaps in the disputed territories without coalition assistance.

Peshmerga and Iraqi forces already work together against Islamic State in the Joint Combined Coordination Center in Erbil, he stressed, explaining that it is a model for future cooperation “from Diyala all the way to Nineveh” province.

Recently, Kurdish, Iraqi and coalition forces carried out successful operations against Islamic State near Makhmour. “There is a lot less Daash today on 30 March than back on 9 March,” Williams said, using an Arabic acronym for the terrorist group. “At least 30 Daash members were killed and over 100 caves were hit,” although fighters are still hiding in the caves near Makhmour.

Peshmerga Reform

Williams also explained that the coalition is supporting a multi-national advisory group of foreign consulates – including the Dutch, British, American and German missions – to support the Peshmerga reform program with some 26 projects.