A counterterrorism operation involving the Iraqi army and local and nonlocal armed forces in this Sunni tribal heartland began at 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 20 to root out Islamic State group (ISIS) operatives. It managed to kill five alleged jihadists in the town of around 90,000 inhabitants but also rekindled long-standing concerns about a possible encroachment of Shiite-led armed factions into this part of the “Baghdad belt.”
This problem is paramount in strategically located towns. Tarmiyah is generally referred to as part of “northern Baghdad,’’ but it is officially in the southern part of Salah al-Din province. Tarmiyah sits at a strategic point between two main roads running north from the capital: one road leads to Kirkuk and the other to Tikrit. Sect-based sensitivities are strong in this area for historical reasons. Rumors of plans to displace local Sunni inhabitants using the pretext of “ensuring security for the capital” have cropped up periodically in recent years, with some claiming that one tactic is to cut down palm groves to take away inhabitants’ livelihoods.
Concerns were voiced that the presence of ISIS in the area might be used as an excuse for mass displacement of the inhabitants in the “Baghdad belt” by these forces, many of which are now government salaried and incorporated.