The terror groups are mainly operating in the areas south of Kirkurk and the northern part of the Diyala region. Sources have also not negated the possibility that al-Qaeda is resurfacing in Iraq and that these new groups are part of al-Qaeda.
The foothold these groups are acquiring has been made possible mainly by the withdrawal of Kurdish forces in the Kurdistan region. Armed Kurdish units were forced to withdraw by the overpowering Iraqi army in the aftermath of the Kurdish vote for independence at the end of September 2017.
Fighting alongside the Iraqi army were the Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashd al-Shaabi, Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias hostile to the Kurds. The militias entered areas where sizable parts of the population were Shiite and burned the houses of the Kurds, causing the Kurds to flee.
American experts, who are also aware of the situation on the ground, warn that these new terror groups are no less dangerous than ISIS. At present, these groups are conducting attacks almost daily at checkpoints and small army bases in the region in addition to perpetrating numerous kidnappings on the roads.
The groups are:
The White Flags are recognizable as they travel by horse as well as motorcycles and four-by-four jeeps. They are reportedly led by a Salafi Kurd named Asi Kawali, who used to be part of ISIS. Members of this group are rumored to have escaped Mosul before ISIS was defeated there. They were joined by Salafi Kurds who adopted ISIS’ ideology in the aftermath of the Kurdish referendum. Others posit that this group is a response to steps the Iraqi government took in the disputed areas of Kurdistan, including the use of the Shiite militias who are inflicting terror on the Kurdish population to take back the areas.
This group calls for an armed struggle to free Kirkuk from the Iraqi government and Shiite forces and announced its intention to target both of these forces.
The Khouisan group is a group of senior al-Qaeda members who began by operating in Syria.