Iraqi factions unify ranks, recapture Bashir
BASHIR (Kirkuk) - Debris littered the area. Brick and cement buildings were flattened to the ground. There were no residents to be heard, just the whisper of a draft across the deserted Turkmen village of Bashir, south-west of the Iraq’s northern city of Kirkuk.
The extent of destruction bears witness to the atrocities that Islamic State (ISIS) militants committed in the village since taking it over on June 14th, 2014. The village was recaptured on May 1st.
Seizing Bashir is a significant step towards liberating Hawija, one of ISIS’s bastions in northern Iraq, which is used as a supply and transportation route linking the jihadists with each other in north-western Iraq.
It is also a lesson to Iraqis that when various ethnic groups unify their ranks, they can defeat ISIS militants.
Analysts and politicians said liberating Bashir will ease a noose on Taza Khurmatu, further south. The multi-ethnic city includes Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, who are continuously fighting jihadists to drive them out of their areas. At least three civilians were killed and scores of others were wounded. More than 50 peshmerga, Turkmen and popular Iraqi militias were reported killed or wounded in fighting April 25th-26th.
“Liberating Bashir is an important step towards Hawija, a stronghold for ISIS”, observed Torhan al-Mufti, president of the Higher Commission for Coordinating between Provinces.
Mufti, representing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, spoke to The Arab Weekly during an inspection tour of Bashir.
“We will soon start rehabilitating the village’s infrastructure, removing the ISIS-planted explosive devices to allow for the return of displaced Iraqis to their homes,” Mufti said during a government-sanctioned tour.
A force of Turkmen fighters, assisted by Kurdish peshmerga and units of Iraq’s popular army that included Shia militias, assisted by US air strikes, recaptured Bashir.
The village underwent a similar destruction 36 years ago. In June 1980, Bashir was demolished at the hands of the Iraqi regime, which executed dozens of Bashir’s Turkmens, mostly Shias, who were a majority in the town.
Abu Redha Najjar, a supervisor of the northern axis of the Turkmen Force, Division 16, said liberating Bashir “does not only open the plain road towards Hawija but also protects Taza Khurmatu from ISIS’s attacks”.
Taza Khormato, also widely known as Taza, is 15km south of Kirkuk, while Tuz Khormato is about 60km away from Taza.
He said the joint operation of ethnic groups of different religious sects was a “direct message to the government to say that unity makes us stronger “.
Abu Thaer, a commander of the Turkmen Force’s Division 16, said coalition warplanes bombed a bridge, cutting off supplies and fighters for ISIS.
He explained that while the peshmerga deployed on the southern part of the village, Turkmen fighters advanced into the village.
“We discovered a network of tunnels under the village linked to each other in a very complicated way,” Abu Thaer said. He said it was not immediately clear what the tunnels were used for.
Abu Thaer said the next step would be to recapture Rashad, 10km west of Bashir, a move that would stop attacks against Bashir and Taza Khurmatu.
Taza Khurmatu Mayor Hussein Ali said at least “80% of the village was destroyed, 800 houses from 1,000 houses are totally destroyed, the mosques, hospital, schools and the infrastructure facilities are destroyed completely”, adding that he met many displaced Iraqi families from Bashir who want to return to their village.
Sadiq Bashirly, a poet, said he fled Bashir with his family the night ISIS attacked the town in June 2014. He said his family went to Najaf, while the others went to Kirkuk and Taza Khurmatu.
He said his cousin from the Turkmen Force told him his house was demolished, yet he saw his library and personal documents under the fallen walls. “Although my house was destroyed, finding the books and a written collection of poems waiting to be published made me feel happy,” he said.
“We will be back soon to the village”, he said, pointing out that residents will be back once the area is cleared of explosives.
Bashirly said he could not forget that night when ISIS attacked. Tens were killed and many others went missing, he added.
Earlier, the Kurdish peshmerga commander Wasta Rasul was quoted as saying that Iraqi forces could cooperate with the peshmerga in Kirkuk province in northern Iraq to liberate Hawija.
“I can tell ISIS is already on the verge of falling in Hawija. Peshmerga forces are also ready to close in on the town,” Rasul said.