The Islamic State (IS) terror group is holding a small Iraqi village hostage to launch attacks on nearby towns.
The village of Bashir is 25 kilometers south of the city of Kirkuk. The village is home to a minority group of Shiite Turkmen. IS has controlled the village since 2014.
Iraqi government officials say IS uses Bashir to launch deadly rocket attacks on nearby towns, including a chemical attack on the town of Taza Khurmatu earlier this month. Town officials reported three deaths and many injuries.
“The rockets spread a garlicky smell and caused nausea and vomiting,” said Soran Jalal, the civil defense head. He told VOA that investigators confirmed IS rockets carried mustard gas and came from Bashir.
Kurdish forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a Shi’ite militia, are surrounding Bashir.
Kurdish Major General Westa Rasul said IS control over Bashir is a big threat. He said the village is close to the North Oil Company and a power plant that provides one third of Iraq’s electricity.
Recently, hundreds of protestors from Bashir blocked Iraq’s main highway. The protestors demanded removal of Islamic State fighters from Bashir.
Iraqi and Kurdish officials say they need air support from coalition forces to remove IS extremists from the village. It is difficult without air support because of numerous mines and explosives planted around the village.
No help from coalition forces
But a coalition of Western governments, including the U.S. and Britain, worry about helping the PMF. The militia group is close to Iran, which has had a troubled relationship with the U.S. PMF is also on the U.S. terrorist organization list.
“Our policy is to support forces with and under the direct control of the government of Iraq,” said U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren. He is a spokesman for the coalition’s operations against IS.
The alleged chemical attack may increase pressure to move against IS forces in Bashir.
Freeing the village from IS will only take a few hours, said Lieutenant General Anwar Hamad Amin. He is commander of the Iraqi Air Force.
But he told VOA, “There needs to be coordination with forces on the ground first.”
And that will not be easy, according to Michael Knights, a Washington Institute expert on the region.
“If a friendly fire incident happened and coalition airstrikes killed Shia PMF, there is a concern among the Shia PMF leaders and the coalition that extremists would retaliate against coalition trainers and embassies,” Knights said.
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Words in This Story
garlicy – adj. the smell of garlic
nausea – n. the feeling you have in your stomach when you think you are going to vomit
vomit – v. to have the food, liquid, etc., that is in your stomach come out through your mouth because you are sick
mustard gas – n. a poison gas used as a weapon in a war
airstrikes – n. attacks carried out by airplane
retaliate – v. to do something bad to someone who has hurt you or treated you badly to get revenge against someone