Mount Qarachogh, Iraq – A long mountain that juts from the flat plains like a knife today separates Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi security forces. This is a result of clashes that took place in October 2017, almost two years ago, following the Kurdistan Regional Government’s referendum. Since the clashes there have been on-again-off-again relations between the Iraqi division commanders and their Kurdish counterparts, working together through the US-led Coalition Operation Inherent Resolve, which is supposed to be fighting and defeating ISIS.
We’d heard rumors that ISIS was still operating below this mountain, called Mount Qarachogh, since last year. The members of ISIS who were not killed during the 2014-2017 war in which the group was slowly defeated in parts of Iraq have gone to ground. These are hard core fighters or hangers-on, men for whom ISIS offers a ready-made escape from the drudgery of life and a place to go to resist what they see as an Iranian-backed Iraqi government. These ISIS networks have existed for more than a decade in one form of another, going back to the insurgency against US forces after 2003. These were a collection of jihadists, Al-Qaeda, local Ba’athists, and everything in between, as well as foreign fighters. When ISIS was powerful, at its peak in the fall of 2014, it attracted some 50,000 foreign volunteers in Iraq and Syria and ran a kind of state built on Sunni Islamist supremacy and the genocide of minorities.