The spokesman of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) has announced that the paramilitary forces will participate in the next major offensive against the Islamic State in Hawija city of Iraq’s Kirkuk Province. Ali al-Husseini said on Friday that the military operation will begin within a few days. There are about 2,000 Islamic State fighters in Hawija, Fars News Agency quotes a local official as saying. The P.M.F. spokesperson added “Daesh [Islamic State] terrorists have to choose between death and surrender,” and that “there are no negotiations with this terrorist group and those whose hands are stained with the blood of the Iraqi people.” According to Husseini, the P.M.F. forces will coordinate their efforts with the Iraqi security forces. He also revealed that Hashd al-Turkmani, an Iranian-supported P.M.F. group, has begun to withdraw its forces from Tal Afar and Mosul in order to deploy them to Hawija.
Comment: With the liberation of Tal Afar, a strategic city 40 miles west of Mosul, the Iraqi security forces’ next target appears to be the city of Hawija. The offensive is expected to be more complicated than the highly publicized Tal Afar operation. While the Islamic State decided to surrender Tal Afar without much resistance, its fighters will most likely put up a fight in Hawija. The city lies near Kurdish-controlled territory and it remains to be seen if Iraqi and Kurdish forces will work together at a time when tension is rising between Baghdad and Erbil over the latter’s decision to hold an independence referendum later this month. The participation of P.M.F. groups could further complicate the operation.