Hawija was a significant base for ISIS militants throughout the terrorist group’s rule over territories stretching across large parts of Iraq. After the liberation of the whole province of Nineveh, which included the famous liberation of Mosul, the group’s former self-proclaimed capital, and then of Tal Afar, Hawija turned into a prominent stronghold.
Civilians from Hawija speak of the cruel treatment that they were subject to while living under ISIS rule and while under siege during the battle to liberate the city, launched by the Iraqi Armed Forces along with other coalition forces, such as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMU).
They recall how ISIS militants entered the city like marauding bandits, slaughtering civilians in an indiscriminate manner. There was a severe shortage of basic necessities, including food, water, and other important resources. ISIS militants would keep most of these resources for themselves, while civilians were deprived of the most fundamental necessities.
Basic services and administrative centres in the city were heavily damaged by ISIS militants. For instance, the local council building was completely destroyed. The hospital opposite the council building was set ablaze and people are now too frightened to enter it as they fear that ISIS militants had booby-trapped the building, a common tactic that they have resorted to in other parts of Iraq and Syria.
As the terrorists were escaping the city en masse once the coalition forces had taken over most of it, they resorted to the scorched earth policy and set fire to the oil wells in the area, leaving behind columns of dark, thick smoke and causes losses estimated to be in their millions of dollars. Kirkuk is famous for its wealth of oil and had formerly been an important strategic location for ISIS in terms of the economic significance of the region.
After the liberation of Hawija, ISIS is now in large part limited to areas along the border with Syria, as the group has continued to experience severe losses in the second half of 2017.