This city has been vigilant, and their vigilance has paid off. But now the jihadis who fought elsewhere are returning, battle-hardened and ready for more murder.
"Islamic parties took so many young Kurds to go for jihad -- so many went there and came back. This is what people are thinking, that they used the same guys who went to Syria from Erbil, Sulaimani or Duhok, and they used them to help the terrorists enter Erbil."
"Erbil Attack: The One That Got Through," by Armando Cordoba for Rudaw, October 3 (thanks to WS):
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Just before one of the suicide bombers detonated his explosives in Sunday’s attack in Erbil, one of the Asayish guards wrapped his arms around the terrorist and told his comrades to run.
In a way, that brave hero who took his own life to shield fellow Kurds is a literal example of how security forces and people in the autonomous Kurdish region are taking on a daily battle against terrorism to protect their burgeoning region and way of life.
Immediately after the guard seized the bomber, the other attackers were met by a large number of armed security forces who reacted quickly and efficiently to minimize the impact of the assault. In the end, all six attackers and as many guards were killed and 62 people were wounded.
Jeremy Oliver, director of operations for Erbil-based Zone Security System, revealed just how deep Kurdish efforts are in preventing any attacks like the one on Sunday.
“It’s been always ongoing. This is why the Kurdistan Region is quiet, because they stay on top of the intel,” Oliver said.
He added that the impact of Sunday’s attack had been very limited due to the preparedness of the security forces, who reportedly had half-a-battalion guarding the intelligence headquarters’ complex.
About two months ago, a Peshmarga official explained to Rudaw how terrorism was being tackled in the Kurdistan Region.
“Peshmarga and Asayish forces are infiltrating cells within the region and systematically halting any progression of attacks,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Here is what I like about the Kurdish region,” said Oliver. “If people see a car and don’t know whose car it is, the neighbors are going to walk to other neighbors and ask whose car it is. If nobody knows, they call Asayish, which will run your plates to find out who you are.”
Party Nzmy, assistant officer for Zone Security and also part of the Peshmarga forces in Kurdistan, added that Kurdish security forces detain suspected terrorists every week.
Just one day after the recent attack Asayish apprehended three suspects from Dream City and were searching for a yellow Opel Vectra with Baghdad plates that was suspected of having a car bomb. The forces were quickly able to stop the plan, but it is not clear if the car was found.
Following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, with South Korean help Kurdistan set up a five-checkpoint system for the seven entrance points that lead into Erbil.
Unlike the rest of Iraq, the Kurdistan Region’s Peshmarga military was not dismantled by the US forces, allowing the enclave to maintain security as the rest of Iraq drowned in violence. Over the past seven years there have been only three successful terrorist attacks in the Kurdish enclave.
This has allowed the Kurdish region to attract large investments and multinationals like Exxon and Chevron. It has been an astonishing feat, considering that to the south lies the rest of Iraq and to the west – in Syria – a civil war has been raging for more than two years.
Oliver said Kurdish security forces monitor all traffic coming through border checkpoints. If a car is found to have weapons or explosives the forces move the vehicle through as if nothing is wrong, but immediately notify the anti-terrorist units.
“By the time they get to the last checkpoint the anti-terrorism team is there to turn them into Swiss cheese. You never read anything about it in the papers or anything like this, but it eliminates the problem before it actually gets into Kurdistan,” he said.
According to Oliver, he used to live near Kirkuk Road, where one of the last checkpoints is and he “watched it happen a couple of times, “ saying it “sounds like world war three.”
One of the incidents which Oliver witnessed was when five trucks tried to enter Erbil and UN intelligence reports stated the trucks came from Iran with 200 kilograms of TNT and plastic explosives. Security forces at Erbil’s checkpoint were waiting.
“By the time they were done you couldn’t recognize what brand the truck was,” Oliver said.
According to Asayish, they knew about Sunday’s attack more than 10-days in advance. There has been some criticism in the Kurdish community over why nothing was done to stop the attack.
Nzmy said there has been some speculation that the attack was successful despite prior knowledge because the planners had used locals who had fought in Syria for al-Qaeda or other Islamist groups.
“Islamic parties took so many young Kurds to go for jihad -- so many went there and came back,” Nzmy said. “This is what people are thinking, that they used the same guys who went to Syria from Erbil, Sulaimani or Duhok, and they used them to help the terrorists enter Erbil.”