The district of Hawija lies southwest of oil rich Kirkuk City on the Left Bank of the River Tigris. Hawija was captured by ISIS militants in June 2014 as part of the group’s surge through northern Iraq and forms one of the last pockets of territory held by ISIS militants in Iraq.
During Hawija’s liberation, ISIS set oil wells on fire and covered the area by a thick black smoke. This was used as a tactic to prevent air detection.
Furthermore, Iraqi Forces began moving on the town of Hawija two days after capturing the Rashad air base, 30 km (20 miles) to the south. The base was used by the militants as a training and logistics site. Following the liberation of the base, the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) found a mass grave which holds the bodies of Army and Police officers from the town Dirban south of Hawija. Revealing in a statement that ISIS have executed these men months ago, the Iraqi Government stated that the identities of the bodies will be determined soon, with help of specialized units.
Amidst these developments, Iraqi security officials say the militants are preventing some residents from leaving, while according to the United Nations around 78,000 people could be trapped there.
The status of post-liberation Hawija remains controversial, as the area is located in a stretch of land disputed between Baghdad and Erbil. The situation will be complicated further by the death of the veteran Kurdish leader and former President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani. Knowing that, his death indicates a new stage of the Kurdish internal politics, which may alter the future of Kirkuk province.
Furthermore, the next goal for the Iraqi Security Forces is to secure the western Anbar countryside which largely remains under militant control. Securing of the Iraq-Syria Border and the bordertown of Qa’im in particular, remains imperative for the government forces.