By Ali Mukarrem Garip
The number of Daesh terrorists has increased significantly in and around Iraq's northern city of Kirkuk, an Iraqi official said Tuesday.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Kirkuk Governor Rakan Saeed al-Jabouri said the number of Daesh members now holed up in areas south of the city had reached “serious levels”.
“Numerous terrorists are hiding out in the Hamrin Mountains and in rural parts of the Zegheton and Abu Hanajer valleys,” he said, going on to assert that the alleged terrorist cadres “pose a real threat to the city”.
Rising numbers of terrorists, al-Jabouri added, had prompted the need for an “anti-terrorism military offensive” in these areas, along with fresh Iraqi troop deployments “to protect civilians from possible Daesh attacks”.
He also warned of Daesh “sleeper cells”, who, he said, had “infiltrated” Kirkuk from the city’s rural outskirts.
“These cells could exploit the city’s internal political disputes,” he said.
The governor’s warning comes only days after an earlier dispute in Kirkuk over the issue of the oil-rich province’s sovereignty.
Last Friday, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a political party based in northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, refused an order by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to remove a Kurdish region flag from outside its office in Kirkuk.
Fearing possible violence, al-Jabouri shortly afterward had asked the central government in Baghdad to send military reinforcements to the city.
"It was a mistake [for the party] to raise the Kurdish region flag in Kirkuk,” al-Jabouri told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.
“Local political disputes can evolve into crises from which Daesh elements can benefit,” he said.
In late 2017, Iraqi federal forces moved into several parts of Iraq “disputed” between Baghdad and Erbil, including Kirkuk.
As federal forces moved into Kirkuk, Peshmerga forces loyal to the Kurdish Regional Government -- who had seized control of Kirkuk in 2014 -- withdrew from the city.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.