Fragile but focused partnership of Iraq-Kurds to stem the revival of IS

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Iraq IraqEarlier this month was a rare sight when Iraq’s federal government and semi-autonomous Kurdish region could be seen coordinating in a small village of Lheiban in northern part of Iraq. The operation was to establish a joint position in the village against advancements and attack by the Islamic State group.

The common agenda to prevent resurrection of the Daesh has brought the Iraqi government and Kurds of the country together in collaboration, despite the two sides engaging in long standing territorial dispute. The relationship though highly fragile, can stand the test of time and help Iraq in its war with the Islamic State group, or not is the real litmus test. The two collaborating sides have said that this is also one reason why the US military troops are still active in the region, even though the official deadline of America’s combat mission is just round the corner – December 31.

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Four years ago Iraq had declared that Daesh was defeated. But the rift between Baghdad and Kurds continued to widen, giving perfect opportunity to IS to creep its way back in, and it did. The disputed territory between Kurds and Baghdad panned across four provinces of Nineveh, Kirkuk, Salaheddin and Diyala provided the perfect loophole to IS as forces from either side didn’t enter the territory.

The disputed zone, that at some places is as wide as 40 kilometres, Lheiban village lies in the disputed zone. But recent surge of IS attacks prompted the villagers, mostly Kurds, to vacate the village. This has led Iraqi troops and Kurds to set up a joint operation, for the first time since 2014, to police the gaps and prevent re-emergence of the IS. “Daesh took advantage,” said Capt. Nakib Hajar, head of Kurdish peshmerga operations in the area. He added, “we are coordinating … It begins here, in this village.”

The Kurdish and Iraqi officials have said that coalition led by US mediated and was instrumental in bringing the coordination to the table and making it happen between the two sides. “They played an important role, coordinating with us and the Iraqi side,” said Jawhar, the peshmerga based in Qarachok. “Without them we wouldn’t speak — they wouldn’t come here, and we wouldn’t go there.” And the two sides agree that US presence is still required to make the operation of stemming IS resurgence possible.

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