On August 2, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) launched an operation to begin liberating Tal Afar. Yet the city’s liberation will be no simple task, with post-liberation governance being particularly complicated. Tal Afar is a diverse territory, home to Sunni Arabs, Sunni Turkmen, Shia Turkmen, and Yazidis. But the complexity of governance spans beyond just the local level, with most of the regional powers scrambling for control and influence over the city as well.
Unlike Tal Afar, Hawija is a more homogenous area, mostly dominated by Sunni Arabs. Still under the brutality of ISIS control, Hawija forms 40 percent of Kirkuk Province. The town has been a hotbed of violence and insurgency against U.S.-led coalition forces and the ISF since 2003. It has been the stronghold of many terrorist and insurgent groups — including, but not limited to, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Ansar Al Sunna, and the Naqshbandi Army. These groups have often merged and collaborated. For instance, on June 10, 2014, ISIS attacked and took control of Hawija with a small number of fighters; these fighters were aided significantly by local support, which allowed the insurgent terror group to take control of the area within 24 hours. Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim described Hawija as a “haven” for Islamic State (IS) militants. The governor also questioned why the U.S.-led coalition prioritized Mosul over Hawija, saying “I don’t know why the coalition has focused on Mosul and chosen to ignore a real threat in Hawija.”