MESOP SOUTH KURDISTAN : As security in Diyala worsens, more kurds flee over border

niqash | Dashty Ali | Sulaymaniyah | 06.03.2014 – An ongoing deterioration in the security situation in parts of Iraq’s Diyala province is forcing many of the Iraqi Kurdish locals to leave their homes. 

Diyala shares its northern border with the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and as a result some parts of Diyala, like Qara Tapa, Jalawla, and Sadiyah and Jibara, that are home to large Iraqi Kurdish populations, are part of what are known as the disputed territories. That is, these are areas that Baghdad says belong to Iraq proper but which the Iraqi Kurdish say belong to their autonomous region, where they have their own security apparatus, military, parliament and judiciary.At one stage, there were a lot of Iraqi Kurdish military – known as the Peshmerga – in these areas but in the middle of 2008, an Iraqi army operation against extremist groups in the area also resulted in the Peshmerga having to withdraw to within the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan.Before the Peshmerga left there was not very much violence here and there were hardly any explosions,” Anwar Hussain, the mayor of Jalawla, told NIQASH. “Since they left the area has just been becoming more unstable and dangerous.”In 2012, Hussain told local media that he thought almost half of the Iraqi Kurdish that had been living in the area had left, most of them for the safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.Mohammed Shukur lives in  Sadiyah and he says he and his family are constantly anxious. “There are always explosions and we fear that soon we will become victims. Every time we see another family leave the neighbourhood, we only get more worried,” said the 37-year-old who works in a vegetable shop.

One of those families included 25-year-old Sarmad Hussein’s. He left town when his brother was killed. “We went to Klar because we were afraid of also being targeted by an armed group,” says Hussein, who only returns every two months to visit his brother’s grave. “I wanted to protect my family and live in peace.”Local security forces say that there are literally hundreds of members of extremist groups in the area and that they come both from Sunni Muslim extremist groups and Shiite Muslim ones. Recent, unproven rumour has it that Iranian militias have also come into Diyala but almost all the others are Iraqi.

The province has a wide ethnic mix with a large Sunni Muslim population and comparatively big Shiite and Kurdish populations too. Besides this, another of the reasons it’s easier for extremists to operate here is geographical – Diyala is large and rural and often extremists live in more remote areas. Additionally Diyala shares borders with Kirkuk and Salahaddin which also makes it easy for militias to move around. Apart from targeting Iraqi Kurdish and anyone else they believe to be their enemy, extremists are also extorting money from local businesses to finance their activities – they do this elsewhere in Iraq too.

Kurdish MP, Hassan Jihad, a member of the Parliamentary committee on security and defence, told NIQASH he was worried that things were getting even worse in Diyala.The reason is the weakness of security agencies in Iraq, they cannot contain the terrorists,” Jihad said.

Jihad is among other Iraqi Kurdish in the area who continue to call for the return of Peshmerga forces to the areas where mostly Kurdish families live.There are five checkpoints manned by the Peshmerga and these are coordinated with the Iraqi army,” the official spokesman for the Peshmerga, Jabbar Yawar, told NIQASH. “But we cannot enter the area without prior approval of the central government. We have fixed positions. We can only enter those neighbourhoods to work on joint operations. Then we must go back.”Jihad says that this is unlikely to change in the near future. The Parliamentary committee on security and defence has not met to discuss any of the recent clashes where the Iraqi army has been battling militants. The government is avoiding that conversation deliberately,” Jihad believes. “Because they fear that those kinds of discussions will create more problems and simply divide the MPs into those who are for and against military operations.”