The War Diaries

"We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

A Day in Duhok

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A view of a mountain ridge on the edge of Duhok with a giant KRG flag painted on a hillside. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

Duhok- I’ve arrived in this damp, green mountainous city in northern Iraq as part of my ongoing journey toward the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. After a few days getting with Erbil and the Sorani Kurdish & Iraqi Arabic the flows through its streets Arriving in this ancient Assyrian settlement in Iraq’s far north, I immediately noticed the difference as the Kurmanji dialect is spoken here much more than Sorani (with some Badini dialect speakers adding to the mix). Checking into a hotel I stayed in last year, I was eager to drop some of my refreshed Sorani phrases when I immediately realised the words spoken here are more akin to those just over the border in Syria than back down in Erbil. Its a far less cosmopolitan environment than Erbil with very little Arabic spoken here and far fewer people from other parts of Iraq. It is also more lush and quiescent north of the Tigris than the more dusty, arid landscapes below.

While Erbil is a mostly flat, sprawling urban centre where seemingly everyone is driving everywhere save for the bazaar/souq, hilly Dohuk seems comparatively quaint in that its a more compact space suitable for walking around exploring its back streets. I stopped in a small tea house for a glass of chai, almost having forgotten how friendly people are here. In a mishmash of Sorani and Kurmanji I asked for glass of chai and an older patron insisted on paying 500 dinars for mine, thanking me for coming in. As he stood up we exchanged pleasantries, I noticed he casually had a weathered kalashnikov dangling from his shoulder as if to remind us where we are. He certainly didn’t have the outward appearance of being a member of the local security forces. The other gentleman in the shop proudly displayed emails to me from the International Organisation for Migration-indicating that he was either an internally displaced person or a refugee (I didn’t ask) and instructions on how to line up at the American embassy in Baghdad to apply for (I suppose) a resettlement visa.

There are plenty of IDPs in this governorate following the IS genocide in August 2014 when the salafi-jihadi outfit laid waste to Sinjar district in Ninewah governorate before being repelled by the PKK, YPG, and US air strikes. I wondered how he intended on getting there as the drive through southern Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din governorates is high risk, especially around Suleiman Bek. Flying from Erbil is a far safer option. I wished him the best of luck.

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February 22nd, 2019 at 2:52 pm

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A City with Stories to Tell

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The KRG flag flying above the dilapidated houses inside Erbil’s famed citadel with red symbolising the spilt blood of the martyrs, the white standing for peace, the green for the verdant land with the sun at the centre standing for light the gives life.
©2019 Derek Henry Flood

Erbil- I arrived in the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) from Beirut as yet another plot point in my journey toward Syria. I made it a point today to visit the city’s magnificent citadel just before it closes at sundown. The citadel is built atop a massive tell, or ancient, man-made mound dating back millennia. Known as Arbela in antiquity, claims have been made that Erbil is the oldest continually inhabited human settlement in existence. I don’t think most journos that pass through here give all that much thought to this town itself as it has played a role of transport and logistical hub for perilous, onward destinations. Erbil is stable, relatively secure, and quiet, lacking the appeal that the seductive chaos of nearby Mosul and Kirkuk tempt curious outsiders with. I too am mostly caught up in that vortex. But my early passion was and remains archaeology. The stone carved lore of the Near East (a dated term denoting this region’s geographic relationship with Europe as the world’s center) with its vaunted empires led by flamboyant warrior -kings puts today’s conflicts in perspective if one takes a moment to pause and reflect upon the grand narrative of civilisation as a whole.

I realised as the MEA flight was about to touch down that 2019 marks my tenth year working in and walking the streets of this city. I first turned up here trying to research a difficult story at the time on the Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê‎ (PJAK), an Iranian Kurdish insurgent group that were launching cross border attacks from the Qandil Mountains into northwestern Iran hitting the Pasdaran (IRGC) in Kordestan and West Azerbaijan provinces. After a lot of waiting around and a clandestine trip into the mountains, I was able to interview an Iraq-based PJAK commander called Agiri Rojhilat. Rojhilat, obviously a nom de guerre of the commander I spoke with a decade ago, means “eastern Kurdistan” in the same manner that the term Rojava in northern Syria signifies “western Kurdistan.” Since then I’ve been returning here to cover different angles of the wider struggle for Kurdish identity across the region. These days I’m focused more on Rojava. Unfortunately for Iran’s restless Kurds very little news seeps out of Rojhilat other than what is reported by state news agencies and culture-specific news outlets.

Now ten years on I will look into what Syria’s Kurds and their Arab allies will be doing as the security dynamic in north and east Syria shifts to the next phase of the war. I’ve seen some reporting as of late describing the war in the past tense in the wake of the Moscow and Tehran-backed regime’s massive territorial gains that came at great human cost. The regime is also allowing some Western journos into Damascus in an attempt to display a degree of normalcy. Syria is by no means on a path to peace. Even if the guns briefly appear to have gone quiet on the front(s), with so many players jockeying in the same contested, under-governed space, we are simply in a lull before the next phase of the conflict begins.

At least the citadel here in Erbil is still standing.

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February 20th, 2019 at 3:09 pm

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Stepping Into the Mosaic

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Walking around East Beirut looking for things familiar, I can attest that this 32-story Credit Libanais tower certainly wasn’t there during Israeli air raids in 2006. Note the car for sale in the bottom left with the California licence plate. Now that reminded me of the war when I realised it was a status symbol to be driving cars around that still had American plates. I remembered seeing a car in front of me on the way to Nabatiyeh once that still had a Michigan plate. ©2019 Derek Henry Flood

Beirut- It had been twelve and a half years since I’d last set foot into Lebanon’s cacophonous seaside capital. In July of 2006 I arrived here to cover the war that had suddenly erupted between a troika of war fighting groups-Hezbollah, Harakat Amal, and Hizb as-Suyu al-Lubnani (the Guevarist-leaning Lebanese Communist Party) battling the invading Israel Defence Forces following a Hezbollah provocation that resulted in a pair IDF conscripts being taken captive and three others killed. The war ravaged Lebanon’s infrastructure that was already tremendously enfeebled by the 1975-1990 factional civil war.

Although virtually no societies in ethnic Arab-majority nation-states are culturally monolithic, the Levant is often termed a mosaic society for its relgio-cultural complexity. The same can be said for Syria and many parts of Iraq. These three states are composed of troubled, pluralistic societies that tend to upend tired orientalist stereotypes rather than uphold them. Lebanon with its Mediterranean coast that faces EU member state Cyprus offshore is by far the most accessible with its relative openness and visa policy (well depending on one’s passport of course).

Fields of ruin. Residents toured ruins of Hezbollah-controlled Haret Hreyk in Baabda district after the August cease fire began. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

The global breadth of the Lebanese mercantilist diaspora amplifies this aspect from the West to West Africa helping this small, fractious state punch well above its weight in terms of cultural impact as well as business acumen. It is as if the distinct ancient groups that comprise this land are tesserae that piece together to form a mesmorising Roman-period mosaic. With each war, the tesserae chip and break and are looted. Emigration and cultural destruction have damaged the mosaic tremendously across the Levant, or Sham if you prefer. But still there is a head, then there is a heart, then emerges an outstretched hand.

Though the war was ostensibly a retaliation against Hezbollah in South Lebanon for its reckless provocation, bombings were hitting much further north including this bridge in Byblos, midway between Beirut and Tripoli. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

The IDF launched a vicious campaign of collective punishment on Lebanese society as a whole. This ultimately strengthened Hezbollah’s position in the country’s domestic political polity. Its guerrilla push back of the IDF further cemented its self-created image as a ‘resistance’ organisation. After all, without the occasional foreign occupying force, what is there to resist? Without the necessity to resist what rationale is there to continually remain in the political sphere? The IDF played perfectly into their hands. As the war ground on and the air strikes widened, Lebanese from many different stripes heralded Hezbollah and the other temporarily allied militias efforts to defend the nation.

A rescue worker gazes at the ruins of south Beirut, destroyed by the Israelis in the hours before of the cease fire between Israel and Hezbollah. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood.

I’d always meant to return to Beirut in part to retrace my steps from that tumultuous summer but also to create new memories in a recovering urban landscape. But each year, new conflicts erupted in places near and far and I simply kept putting a return off. Now in 2019, as i journey incrementally back to Syria’s scorched battlefields, instead of going the usual route via Istanbul, I decided to take a different path this time around. On my agenda was to find my old apartment block from that terrifying time in the city’s Ghabi neighbourhood east of of the Phalangist stronghold of Sassine Square. After a fantastic vegan Armenian lunch in Bourj Hammoud with a couple of American aid workers I’d met who’d both previously been stationed in Iraq, I hiked up to Achrafieh and descended into the warren-like hills looking for a memory.

It wasn’t as easy to find as I’d envisioned partly due to the new structures that had cropped up in the area in the last decade. When I finally did find it, I was taken aback by this otherwise quite ordinary, dated Mediterranean style building. Not because if its banal architectural traits but because the intensity of the memory it held for me within. Racing out to the balcony at 3:30 am to see a fire ball erupting from another apartment block. Over and over.

Parts of Beirut are booming now, with large parts of the city being gentrified or wholly redeveloped. Hezbollah made a catastrophic mistake in challenging the military might of an Israeli state ready to swivel its posture from one of defence to offence with the slightest casus belli. The IDF should have known better than to invade Lebanon six years after it finally withdrew its forces. The belligerents battered each other, innocents were slaughtered, and illiberal political actors only further entrenched themselves in their respective Levantine echo chambers.

Finding this nondescript concrete apartment block evoked intense memories of a summer of terror and trauma. Moments before dark I spotted it overlooking the Pierre Gemayel roadway that separates the capital from the adjacent Mount Lebanon governorate that hugs the capital. The darkened sky above reminded me of the bombardments this city endured all those years ago. ©2019 Derek Henry Flood

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February 19th, 2019 at 2:59 pm

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A Stoic Island In the Middle

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A couple fish along Lanarca’s waterfront in February. ©2019 Derek Henry Flood

Larnaca- I spent three very tranquil days on the southern Cypriot coast where I didn’t do much other than walk around in the rain and sample savoury vegan cuisine as the hours rolled by. I’d longed for years to visit this outpost of Hellenic culture-both ancient and modern-anchored in the eastern Mediterranean. Zeno, the founder of stoicism, was born on Cyprus, as was the goddess Aphrodite if you believe in that sort of thing. I have the impression that mainland Greeks consider Cyprus its own separate deal with Arabic and Turkish linguistic influences fomenting a unique island dialect that might be abrasive to erudite Athenians as a hypothetical. The same may have been true for the Pontic Greeks from Abkhazia.

The third largest island in this sea saddled with a painful modern history just south of Turkey and west of Syria and Lebanon is a cultural and geopolitical outlier in several respects. It is part of the EU yet firmly outside the internally borderless Schengen area. I’d momentarily forgotten this when at the Vienna airport I wondered why i was going through an emigration queue to get my passport stamped despite that fact that I was boarding a domestic EU flight. Cyprus is in the eurozone (well the internationally recognised ethnically Greek republic anyway) but is more of Middle Eastern locale in terms of its proximity to the Levant than to, say, Brussels.

The island is locked in a frozen conflict with its Turkish minority inhabiting the unreognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the northern 36% of its territory. After the failure of the enosis movement in the mid-20th century in which ethnic-Greek Cypriots sought to be formally incorporated into the Hellenic Republic (i,e, Greece), a coup ensured followed by a Turkish invasion that has divided the island ever since. Cyprus effectively has four governance entities: the Greek-ruled south, the Turkish-administered north, the UK exclaves of Akrotiri and Dhekelia-the so-called Sovereign Base Areas-and of course the United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus, better known as the Green Line, under control of Bangladeshi-led UN peacekeepers. interestingly timely note: movement between the UK territory and the Republic of Cyprus of Britons and Cypriots alike is fluid as both are EU member states but no one has an idea what may happen to the movement of people and goods on the island post-Brexit.

Larnaca is an ideal jumping off point to Lebanon because besides being perhaps the shortest genuinely international flight possible at just under 25 minutes, there’s a Lebanese/Armenian community there whereby you can brush up on rusty colloquial Arabic before boarding. It was a good few quiet days on this clean, confounding island with its complex human and political geography.

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February 16th, 2019 at 5:18 pm

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A Freudian Slip

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A quick walk around Vienna’s quiet city centre reveals a panoply of architectural styles from authentic Baroque to neo-Baroque and from modernism to post-modernism. ©2019 Derek Henry Flood

Vienna- I went through the former multi-imperial capital at the crossroads of central Europe as part of this gradual journey eastward toward the orchestrated chaos playing out in the Levant. Part of why I chose to visit the Austrian capital was simply that I had never been there. When I first began traveling in the EU over 20 years ago, the airline industry here had only been formally deregulated the previous year. Thus traveling overland across the continent in the late 1990s was still both the economic and cultural norm.

As a university student you would travel on Eurolines buses or via train on a summer Eurail pass. As such, I traveled all over western, northern, and central Europe in a largely contiguous fashion until reaching the politically disjointed post-colonial Middle East. With the advent of Ryanair, Easy Jet, and the like, by the mid-2000s I began flying from point to point on uncomfortable low cost carriers which did away with observable overland gradual cultural and linguistic shifts. By 2005, I was in Barcelona and suddenly I was in Athens. Yes, these were both urban centres southern Europe but how were they connected in terms of a historical grand narrative? Rarely ever in train stations and ports of call today, it becomes more challenging to intellectually discern-by way of visual and audible minutiae-the linkages between civilisational entrepôts. Travel had been a way to absorb knowledge by the nature of its comparative inefficiencies. Today, internet-driven hyper connectivity has brought vast new opportunities for the denizens of this vast economic bloc but at a cost to cultural nuance, a boon to aspirant autocrats and vilifying populists.

As the EU has become more of a cohesive supranational geopolitical entity, some qualities have fallen by the wayside in the name of some of globalisation’s uniformity principles. I’d visited or at least passed through all of the states surrounding Austria save for tiny Lichtenstein in my early travels but stopped moving about in a spontaneous just-for-fun manner as the era of the Terror Wars was hastily ushered in immediately after 9/11. Austria is of course the republic’s Latinised exonym for Österreich, ‘eastern realm.’ (Thus the Aust in Austria is a Latin phonetic of Öst ‘east’ and unrelated the naming of Australia which is purely Latin in origin derived from Terra Australis, ‘southern land’ after New Holland was renamed.) The name to me intimates that it is the gateway to the beyond. It largely signals the periphery of the Germanic and Latinic world (with the exception of Latin outliers Romania and Moldova) abutting the Finno-Urgic ethno-linguistic exclave of Hungary and the western reaches of the vast Slavic realm.

In essence I made myself pass by the city of Sigmund Freud and the one-time monarchic seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire just for the sake of going somewhere I hadn’t been. To be somewhere unfamiliar. To see the wide boulevards that felt more Budapest than Berlin to me. I only wish I’d allotted more time to such a spectacular urban space.

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February 14th, 2019 at 2:49 pm

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Introducing Increments-An Analog Photography Story

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My ancient Olympus MJU-II with a fixed 35mm f/2.8 lens and some Kodak colour 200 speed film I picked up before going to the airport. ©2019 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- Every so often at home in the West people will broach what can feel like an awkward topic of how I journey to Syria or other places that seem to be varying states of perpetual turmoil. I don’t generally have a boilerplate response as I often tailor my answer to my specific audience of one or perhaps three on a New York or Catalan street.

The answer that I travel in increments of change. It as not as if one takes an Uber to JFK and lands in Deir ez-Zor governorate the following morning. Everything for me happens in much smaller steps. So I had an idea to dust off this old compact point and shoot and bring it along toward a rugged reporting trip and document these human and geographic increments along the way from friends to militiamen and points in between. I last used this camera in Syria in 2002 and Iraq in 2003 and am curious to see how it’s held up over the years.

More so I’d like to be able to share my experiences in a more relatable way. I have no idea how these images will ultimately turn out but I’m betting on fun at the least. Perhaps I’ll make something of them in a modest story telling format. What I like is that it’s already adding another, albeit minor, dimension to my travels in the greater Mediterranean world.

This was shot in 2002 with the Olympus MJU-II in the courtyard of the famed Umayyad masjid at its western portico in Damascus by a friendly Syrian man I handed my low tech point and shoot to for posterity. This majestic complex dates at least as far back as the pre-Roman Aramean era. It then became repurposed for the Cult of  Jupiter followed by being  dedicated to John the Baptist during Byzantium. Its final and present incarnation is an exquisite Islamic holy site where the octagonal ablution fountain behind me was said to mark the middle point between Istanbul and Mecca.

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February 12th, 2019 at 7:29 am

Posted in Syria

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Vice-A Tortured Review

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Barcelona- I’m certainly no film critic, but I came away from the star studded Vice starring Welsh-born Christian Bale as Wyoming’s Richard ‘Dick’ Bruce Cheney, ruthless veteran Republican operator and titan of industry with several thoughts. Firstly as someone who lived through many of the events depicted in the latter portion of the film (9/11, the bombing of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, etc), I know first-hand what the results of neoconservative (a no-longer-in-fashion term never employed in Vice for obvious reasons) policy were at home-collecting date on citizenry-and abroad-bombing and killing-and therefore felt compelled to see the film as it opened in wide release a month or so ago.

A Neoconservative World Order

Vice elevates Cheney from a little understood yet enormously powerful bureaucrat to show him for the shadow master writer-director Adam McKay conceives him to be. It also portrays–without naming them as such–the alumni of the somewhat ominously named Project for a New American Century (then referred to be insiders and critics alike as PNAC for short) that sought to establish a democratic government, ostensibly one friendly or at least not hostile to Israel, in Iraq through large-scale militarised violence. How transparently dubious to things titled “Iraqi Liberation Act” and the ” Committee for the Liberation of Iraq” sound? These themes were spoofed in the 2005 film Syriana with its “Committee for the Liberation of Iran” that played upon many of the geopolitical fears prevalent at the time.

The world Dick Cheney left behind. View from the top of the Baghdad telecom tower with a view of a massive unfinished mosque. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

The film made me a bit sentimental for that period of what seemed like comparatively binary politics on the world stage as compared to the ongoing chaos we see today where it isn’t quite clear who is in charge of global affairs. This was an awful, momentous period in world order and breaches to the U.S. Constitution-the bedrock of rule-of-law in the United States–but as an observer of events at home and abroad, one could at least feel they had a firm grasp of who the players were and what their dogmatic aims were meant to achieve, whether perceived as beneficent or nefarious depending on one’s perspective. Today, citing the presence of American Special Operators in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (formerly known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria) as an example, no one seems to know what the hell is going on. When principal players like James Mattis and Brett McGurk resign overnight, the era portrayed in Vice seems relatively quiescent in terms of state stability in Washington. Not to make light of it, for the former begat the latter to be sure, but the present is certainly exponentially more embarrassing if not outright dangerous.

Degrees of Separation

What really got me personally was that there was a John “torture memo” Yoo character-I suppose coincidentally played by actor Paul Yoo of no apparent relation. Yoo, a upwardly mobile South Korean immigrant, helped to legally articulate one of the darkest periods in the known conduct of state actors in the American federal system in recent memory. When I was in Thailand last year fruitlessly looking for the still secret locale of Detention Site Green, the site where ‘waterboarding’ was first thought to have occurred as an American torture method after 9/11 in the context of the Terror Wars. As in Vice where global warming became “climate change,” torture would be rebranded as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Years ago I was friends with someone who’s sister was married to Yoo. I was quite curious at the time what it was like to have a legal architect of the 9/12 world for an in-law. We didn’t delve terribly far into this awkward topic. By this point, Yoo was comfortably ensconced in northern California teaching law at UC Berkeley-a fact I found a bit confounding being that he seemed to be as antithetical to that particular campus or town’s ascribed ethos. At the time, said friend didn’t profess much of an opinion of Yoo other than he was polite at family gatherings. I wanted to know more being a few degrees of separation from such a controversial–to put it kindly–figure put pried not much further. Months before the film’s theatrical release, I remembered that vague connection when traipsing around Thailand to no avail.

The Rise of Al-Zarqawi

Interestingly what I didn’t not expect from McKay’s epic was how central the name Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (né Ahmed Fadhil al-Khalayleh) would be to the plot line. Al-Zarqawi was oft described is an unsophisticated Jordanian street operator from the working class northern city of az-Zarqa who was radicalised in prison by the infamous salafi preacher Abu Muhammad al-Maqidisi there and went on to bounce around the miniverse that was global salafi-jihad at the time. Where I disagree with the film’s narrative is that it, perhaps for the sake of brevity, describes Zarqawi as the founder of “ISIS.” Firstly, I can’t stand the term ISIS because it simply is not factually correct in terms of Arabic to English transliteration. ISIL is far more correct despite there being no agreed upon standardised translation.  Secondly, even if it were correct, the group no longer calls itself ISIL It has been just “IS” for years now. Adherents even shorten that to just ad-Dawla, meaning “the State” which implies omnipotence and universality in their violently myopic thought-world.

Thirdly, Zarqawi died in a strike in June 2006 some seven years before ISIS/ISIL was declared. Zarqawi founded Jamaat al-Tawhid w’al-Jihad (Group for Monotheism and Holy War roughly). The Islamic State of Iraq–the organisation that would later become ISIS/ISIL/IS was formed several months after Zarqawi’s assassination by constituents of the Mujihideen Shura Council who sought to cohere a dominant salafi war-fighting group in the cacophonous theatre that was the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq at the time. Perhaps I’m being a bit too technical but I bristled at that line in the otherwise quite enjoyable film.

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February 6th, 2019 at 5:31 am

Posted in 9/11,Iraq,Thailand

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Into the Mountains-New Work on IS in the Troubled Governorates of Northern Iraq

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Al-Shorta al-Ittihadiyya (Federal Police) patrol Kirkuk’s comparatively secure city centre as the Disputed Territories become increasingly insecure beyond its urban periphery. I was caught at a Fed Po checkpoint later this day and forced to delete this image under duress. I was able to recover the deleted file after finding the appropriate Youtube tutorial combined with 2.5 hours of navigating the solution. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

New York-I have a new piece out in the September 2018 issue of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point’s monthly Sentinel journal on IS’s insurgent rear bases and operations in Iraq’s northern federally controlled governorates of Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala. (I excluded the dynamics in Mosul and wider Ninewa as that would’ve made the topic too broad and unwieldy) This project was a long time in the making as it first took shape when I returned to Kirkuk in February of this year and it was abundantly obvious how much the situation had changed since the federal and Shia militia takeover in October 2017 when the forces of the PUK, and less so KDP, were ousted.

After spending a month working in northern Syria I returned to Kirkuk to conduct interviews and do some more digging while speaking with civilians from Diyala and Salah ad-Din who told me in detail about the shaky security conditions along the Baghdad-Kirkuk road and what nightly life was like in the dangerous administrative seats that were and are suffering through nocturnal militant attacks as Fed Po largely kept in their barracks after sundown according to interviewees.

The city was by then plastered with campaign posters for the May parliamentary elections and the presence of Hashd militiamen seemed less overt. Baghdad was very keen to visibly assert control of Iraq’s arguably most tense major city (saying that without regard to the conditions down in Basra at present). In the interim while I’d been busy in al-Hasakah and Halab (Aleppo) governorates on the other side of the Euphrates, a few major security incidents occurred that the government of (still) PM al-Abadi could not ignore–particularly the ambush of 27 Hashd men in al-Hawija district later in February after I’d crossed into Syria. Returning in late March, Dibis and Kirkuk districts simply felt more tense. I attempted to interview the Baghdad-appointed governor Rakaan Saeed Ali al-Jubouri but was thrown out for being at his compound with a flimsy KRG visa after circumventing the security cordon somewhat by driving via the oil town of Taq Taq. Though not before I was able to gather plenty of nuanced detail on the security environment.

As a very visible symbol of the restoration of central authority over Kirkuk, the gigantic peshmerga statue at the city’s northern gate brandishes a republican flag after its formerly trademark Kurdistani flag was torn down. It can be argued without a hefty amount of vigor that security has worsened there since Iraqi security forces and Hashd militia brigades took control last fall. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

It was becoming undeniable the IS ease of use of the Hamrin and Makhoul mountains and Lake Hamrin basin area coupled with the nature of the area’s physical geography have enabled a rather permissive environment for insurgent activity. I had been on the edge of the Hamrin in September of last year when visiting PUK frontline positions in Daquq and Tooz districts before the KRG’s territorial project collapsed in the Disputed Territories. These places are far more difficult–and dangerous in my opinion–to visit a year 0n. At the time Erbil and Baghdad were, albeit in a temporary realpolitik mode, on the same side in a somewhat conventional war against IS. Now they have returned to the pre-2014 status quo as military peer competitors.

Met this effusive taxi driver from Riyadh subdistrict who described the deleterious conditions after central authority was restored to the Hawija pocket but never fully asserted 24 hours a day. He seemed happy about the relative safety of Kirkuk city and to give random Westerner  a ride to Governor al-Jubouri’s compound on the southern bank of the Khassa river. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

Today federal authorities have their hands full. With the eyes looking down at the protest movement in Basra and other southern cities and the tussle over political power as a new government has yet to be formed months after the controversial May vote. The attacks emanating from the Hamrin range are ongoing while the COIN campaign being implemented does not have the feel of an overarching strategy. It’s a proverbial game of cat and mouse in those rocky hills.

PUK fighters in the southern part of Daquq district near the Hamrin mountains this time last year. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

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September 10th, 2018 at 2:35 pm