From Amirli to Taza Khurmatu: Turkmen are Resisting
The Turkmen, who have been subject to killings over the years in Iraq, are facing a new massacre. Becoming the main loser of the new government structure that was established after the regime change with the US intervention, the Turkmen have also been the most suffering group in the process after ISIS. It is known that in the process that started with ISIS’s invasion of Mosul in 2014, more than six hundred thousand Turkmens had to migrate from Tal Afar, Mosul, Taza Khurmatu and Diyala since ISIS has become active and gained control in almost all Turkmen regions.
The attacks of ISIS to the regions that Turkmen live are continuing as many Turkmen regions are under attack by ISIS. Besides Mosul and Tal Afar, the Turkmen settlements such as the areas around Tuzkhurmatu and Amirli in Saladin governorate, towns in Diyala like Karatepe, Shehreban, Beled Ruz, Muqdadiyah, Jalawla, villages in Kirkuk, and towns like Daquq and Taza Khurmatu are under pressure from ISIS. The Turkmen resistance in Tuzkhurmatu in Amirli, which is strategically located near Kirkuk-Baghdad road that has been closed after the attack by ISIS to Mosul, attracted the attention of international community. ISIS failed to capture Amirli despite 86 days siege. The Kirkuk-Baghdad road was opened after the break of ISIS siege of Amirli with the help of Hashd al-Shaabi and Shiite militias. Similarly, ISIS could not capture Taza Khurmatu although it has attacked the city many times. Because most of the Turkmen living in the area between Amirli and Kirkuk are Shiite, and because these regions have strategic positions in the fight against ISIS, Hashd al-Shaabi and Shiite militias have given support to Turkmen, so Turkmen have been able to protect their regions.
Recently, district of Taza Khurmatu, a Turkmen settlement located about 5 km away from Turkmen village Bashir seized by ISIS, is under mortar attack. According to the information presented by Turkmen Rescue Foundation, in the last 3 days ISIS fired more than 200 mortar shells and katyusha rockets into Taza Khurmatu, which is 12 km south of Kirkuk. Although most of the attacks have targeted frontline, mortar shells and rockets were fired into the areas where civilians live. It was reported that ISIS has used chlorine gas in these attacks and the civilians affected by chlorine gas attacks have been hospitalized. The Turkmen force in Taza Khurmatu have asked Turkmen to stay at home, not to wander around empty fields, to cover their mouths with a wet cloth and not breath the air directly in regions where mortars and rockets are being fired.
While Turkmen have become the target of ISIS once again, neither the Iraqi Army, the US-led coalition forces nor peshmerga who control Kirkuk have taken a step to intervene. The village of Bashir captured by ISIS is the main problem. The village, which has become one of the regions around Kirkuk that was controlled by ISIS after the seizure of Mosul, is waiting for being rescued for months. While operation preparations to liberate Bashir has been made time to time, no operation has been launched yet because the Iraqi central government does not take any initiative, the US-led coalition forces do not give air support, and peshmerga offer conditional support. Therefore, ISIS keeps threatening Kirkuk through Bashir. There is only 20 km between Bashir and Kirkuk. While Bashir could not been taken back from ISIS, Turkmen face a massacre due to the continuous attacks by ISIS to Taza Khurmatu through this region, as the ISIS threat to Kirkuk also increases. Taza Khurmatu is the resistance point between ISIS and Kirkuk. In case Taza Khurmatu falls into the hands of ISIS, it can easily enter Kirkuk. At the same time, if Taza Khurmatu is captured by ISIS, it is possible that Kirkuk-Baghdad road can be closed again and ISIS can expand its domain to the north and south. This can lead ISIS, which is retreating in Iraq, to regain power while the war against ISIS can be interrupted. Besides, there is an electric distribution plant in Taza Khurmatu, and there is a natural gas station outside of the town. If ISIS captures these two power stations or it attacks them, it will be a disaster for Kirkuk and areas around it. For this reason, it is important in terms of the fight against ISIS and ending the terrorism in the country that Taza Khurmatu should be defended and ISIS threat should be eliminated.
Turkmen in Taza Khurmatu resist against ISIS to protect their land, lives, homes, and honor although they cannot get enough support. About 1,400 fighters from the Turkmen forces of Hashd al-Shaabi known as 16th Turkmen Brigade are resisting against ISIS in Taza Khurmatu. There are also fighters from the militia forces called Abu Fadel Abbas, Kataib Imam Ali and Abna Al Karar which are sent by the religious authority in Necef within these Turkmen forces. However, even these forces are not strong enough to protect Taza Khurmatu. While Iraqi government keeps quiet about Taza Khurmatu and Bashir, peshmerga say that they will join the Bashir operation if the control of Bashir is given to them. The US, giving air support to the fight against ISIS, is not willing to give air support to Hashd al-Shaabi and Turkmen forces if they launch separate operations in Bashir. The US wants a joint Hashd al-Shaabi- peshmerga operation to Bashir. There is no consensus over the issue; therefore, the operation cannot be launched to Bashir. As a result, Turkmen are the ones who suffer the most. Turkmen are negatively affected by the political, administrative and military tension and disagreement in Iraq. Turkmen are left alone with the ISIS threat in Taza Khurmatu. They are forced to surrender. It seems difficult for Turkmen to defend Taza Khurmatu without any support although they do not surrender to ISIS. In this sense, Kurds (peshmerga), who control Kirkuk, seems be the only party Turkmen can get support from. At this point, the US also seems to be on Kurds’ side in this issue. It is reported that, on 9 March 2016, American and Kurdish authorities held a meeting with Turkmen authorities in Taza Khurmatu on the issue of Bashir operation, and they are said to have exerted pressure towards the peshmerga control of the region. If Kurds can gain control over Bashir and Taza Khurmatu, it is possible that they can solidify control over Kirkuk and they can increase their pressure on Taza Khurmatu which they have wanted to take for a long time and for this reason, they have fought against the Turkmen. This will pave the way for the Iraq Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to control the areas outside of Erbil, Suleymaniye and Duhok, which are stated in the Iraqi Constitution.