The media has recently been deluged with reporting on the movements of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) into various parts of Iraq. As we are physically in Iraq, and as I am a security expert, we thought you might like to know what the situation is really like in Kurdistan.
ISIS is an Islamist terrorist group that started some years ago as the Islamic State in Iraq, an al Qaeda splinter group. After the civil war in Syria began, they shifted the majority of their operations to Syria, and modified their name to ISIS. In Syria, they have at times fought all of the various factions involved in the war pursuing their own aims to establish an Islamic state or caliphate. They have recently returned their focus to Iraq, mainly due to deep-seated Sunni Arab frustration with the sectarian policies of Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki.
Approximately six months ago, they largely took over the city of Falluja in Anbar province as well as other parts of the province. They have had cooperation from some Sunni tribal elements as well as the Naqishbandi Group (JRTN), which is composed of former Ba’athists under the leadership of former Saddam deputy Izzat al-Duri.
ISIS has in fact moved into parts of northern and western Iraq. They began their most recent offensive in the city of Mosul, west of Erbil. They have from there moved south into the Sunni heartland rapidly capturing a variety of other places such as Tikrit, Bayji, Baquba and areas outside of Baghdad. They have been able to achieve these gains due to two main reasons.
First, they are operating mostly in areas, which have some degree of sympathy to their anti-Shia, anti-Government of Iraq ideology.
Second, they are facing Iraqi Army units made up largely of poorly lead and poorly trained Shiites who are not committed to the cause and were mainly in the Iraqi Army for economic reasons. Accordingly, these Iraqi Army units have melted away in the face of ISIS. As the Iraqi Army has evaporated in areas bordering Kurdistan – the so-called disputed territories, or areas that are majority Kurdish, but outside of the official Kurdistan Region – the Kurdistan Peshmerga have moved into those areas, securing military bases and equipment and pushing out the boundary area separating the heart of the current Kurdistan Region from areas occupied by ISIS.
In this process, there have been some small clashes between ISIS and the Peshmerga, which have seen ISIS back down in every case (this is partly because they have tangled previously with Kurdish militias in Syria, and have received the worst of it in most all cases).
Notably, the ISIS leadership has stated they have no intention to attack Kurdistan. There are two main reasons for this.
First, ISIS is militarily reaching the limits of its operational control with all of the territory it has seized (with many pockets of sympathetic Sunni Arabs), and long exposed flanks.
Second, ISIS knows that the Kurdish Peshmerga are renowned fighters, who are dedicated, loyal, trained and ready to defend their homeland and take the fight to ISIS if need be.
For this reason, the security situation within the Kurdistan Region is largely unchanged. The security forces are on a higher state of alert and readiness, but that is really precautionary. Otherwise, there are no changes in terms of movement control or conduct of daily business. The border areas have received large numbers of displaced persons, but they are being held in displaced persons camps if they do not have relatives or others who can vouch for them inside of Kurdistan.
It is important to know that we are in constant contact with the Kurdistan security forces leadership and are well aware of the real time situation. We are also constantly evaluating our routes and destinations to ensure we are staying clear of any areas that are potentially troublesome. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.