Islamic State seized control of two villages in northern Iraq last week, as the ongoing territorial dispute between Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi government left parts of the region undefended.
The villages of Taweeli’ah and al-Maliha were under the control of IS fighters on Tuesday (17 October), after Kurdish Pashmerga forces retreated from the advancing Iraqi Army, which moved to capture territory claimed by both the Kurdish and Iraqi governments.
Kamal Chomani, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph: “As long as there will be problems between Baghdad and Erbil, ISIL extremists benefit from the conflicts … ISIL can easily reorganise itself when there is a political and security vacuum, this is the strength of any extremist groups here as the ideology remains the same.”
Northern Iraq is the historic heartland of Christianity in the region. But the worsening tensions between the Iraqi and Kurdish governments following Kurdish independence referendum last month, mean Christians hoping to return to their homes remain at risk. A former U.S. Intelligence officer stated, “Baghdad thinks it’s more important to move on the Kurds than to deal with remaining pockets of ISIL in Iraq.