After being liberated from three years of ISIS oppression, residents of the towns and villages south of Hawija are looking to make sure that the militant group can never gain a foothold again. In the district of al-Rashad, residents have begun setting up volunteer units to ensure that their homes have a first line of defence in the event of militants attempting to make a comeback.
These local volunteer units are composed entirely of the people of the region and are supported locally. Many of them, so far, have not received any support from the central government in Baghdad as these units were only formed recently. The local leaders of al-Rashad hope to receive official recognition and support from Baghdad soon. However, for many of the volunteers here, taking part is its own reward. They have seen the damage ISIS militants have done to their towns and cities when the group swept across the country. The fact that many cities in the region, including Hawija, fell to the militants without much of a fight remains a source of unease for the people here.
In addition to the immediate benefits of having a defensive line against ISIS militants, the formation of volunteer units here offers a number of extra benefits. The locals know the region and its people, and the Iraqi Security Forces stationed here hope that they can put this knowledge to use in tracking ISIS militants who have tried to hide among the local population. This is particularly important as security forces have lost the trail of a number of militants fleeing Hawija in the nearby Bazl region.
Furthermore, the volunteer units offer the local unemployed men an opportunity at keeping busy, helping their communities and making a livelihood, especially if the elders of al-Rashad manage to get these units recognised by the government. In a country where economic opportunities remain scarce, employment in the security services remains one of the more viable options.
The formation of these volunteer units is yet another example of Iraqis organising themselves to combat what ISIS represents. It is a pattern that is being repeated across the country and paints a positive sign for the future of Iraq.