ISIS militants push into Kurdish-controlled areas

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Azzaman, August 2, 2014

Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) are battling Kurdish militias in the co-called disputed areas north-west of the city of Mosul, which they occupied nearly two months ago.

Heavily armed militants are reported to have attacked and later occupied the district of Zummar, 120 kilometers north-west of Mosul following fierce fighting with Kurdish militias who are known locally as peshmerga.

The fall of Zummar, if confirmed, will be the biggest blow to the Kurds as it will position ISIS only a few kilometers away from Ain Zalah, a small but a strategic oilfield. Ain Zalah also has a small refinery with a capacity of 20,000 barrels per day.

Residents and local press reports say that the Kurds had withdrawn from Zummar and that ISIS flags were flying from buildings and gun and mortar-mounted pickup trucks were roaming the streets.

This will be a crushing defeat to the Kurds and their claims of the so-called disputed areas. It in fact places even their original autonomous territory, including the Kurdish Province of Dahouk under threat.

The Tigris River and the man-made Mosul Dam will be the only natural obstacle preventing ISIS from attacking Dahouk.

Residents of Zummar and a dozen of nearby villages are reported to have fled, heading for Dahouk.

ISIS militants’ main target is apparently Ain Zalah whose crude oil and refined products they want to use to raise funds for their operations.

ISIS is in control of at least four oil fields in northern Iraq and a small refinery. Its militants have encircled the refinery in Baiji, which is Iraq’s largest with a capacity of 320,000 barrels a day but it is militants have failed to control it despite repeated attacks.

The fall of Zummar and the unexpected withdrawal of Kurdish peshmerga comes at a bad time for the Regional Kurdish Government in Arbil and its leader Massoud Barzani who was more than upbeat to see Iraqi troops routed by ISIS.

The defeat of Iraqi troops in northern Iraq emboldened Barzani to send his militias into the so-called disputed areas, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, expanding his semi-independent enclave by nearly 40%.