The Washington Post reports: Kurdish fighters are struggling to hold on to recent gains against Islamic State militants in Iraq in the face of constant shelling and sniper fire. But Kurds say the jihadists have another weapon: local Arab sympathizers.
The Kurds suspect ethnic Arabs have backed the militants in battles that have raged in Iraq’s north over the past month, including a stunning advance by the jihadists. The fighting has displaced thousands of families in a region long known as a flashpoint for Arab-Kurdish violence. Now many Sunni Arab residents are barred from coming home.
“The Arabs here stabbed us in the back, and now they are threatening us” from the villages nearby, a Kurdish intelligence officer, Ahmed Hawleri, said from the front-line district of Gwer.
About 30 miles from the city of Irbil, Gwer offers a glimpse into how the fighting has intensified the ethnic divide in some communities. The town was a diverse community of roughly 10,000 before Islamic State gunmen seized it on Aug. 7. Arabs and Kurds had lived side by side despite tensions that lurked beneath the surface.
Now the desolate landscape of shuttered shops and toppled power lines is a military and ethnic fault line. [Continue reading…]