There’s a simmering conflict between two groups that are fighting the Islamic State terror group in Iraq.
Last week The Daily Beast reported last that in Jalawla, a town near the Iranian border, Kurdish fighters have kicked out Shia militias they fought alongside to retake the territory from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh).
“Our relationship [with the Kurds] was good, but now our relationship has problems,” Ali Khorasani, the commander of Shia militias that Kurdish forces expelled from Jalawla, told the Beast.
Kurdish fighters and Shia militias backed by Iran have stepped in to spearhead the fight against ISIS militants where Iraqi security forces have been insufficient. And now it appears there is a conflict brewing between what many regard as the two most competent fighting forces on the ground in Iraq.
“It’s going to be a simmering problem for some time,” Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and expert on Shia militias, told Business Insider. “If there was another major conflagration that did occur … then it would probably be the Shia militias versus Kurdish forces.”
He continued: “I don’t think either side really wants it to blow up into something that will be a major conflagration … but there’s always the potential that something can light up and it could get quite nasty.”
There’s been talk of an independent Kurdistan for some time, and it seems that Kurds, an ethnic group, have been seizing on the opportunity to take over territory that they expel ISIS from.
But a fully independent Kurdistan still isn’t necessarily imminent, Smyth said.
“Technically they’re already an autonomous quasi-entity but they need to get a few more ducks in a row to put everything together,” he said.
In any case, it seems the Kurdish fighters are willing to defend land they see as theirs.
“This area is ours now, and that’s not changing,” Brigadier General Mahmoud Sangawi, who commands Kurdish Peshmerga forces, told the Beast in Jalawla. “For me, if [ISIS or Shia militias] attack me I will attack them, because this is my land. If they come to this land, of course I will fight them.”
In February, the Associated Press described the relationship between the Shiites and the Kurds in Iraq as “a marriage of convenience” forged from their willingness to fight a common enemy — ISIS.
How long that lasts depends on what happens going forward.
In any case, independence for some of the Kurds is a internationally thorny issue. To get an idea of the stakes at play here amid wars in Syria and Iraq, here’s a look at where ethnic Kurds reside: