A sign in Erbil for the road to Baghdad and Kirkuk
Two Filipino women have been abducted on a road from Baghdad to Erbil according to reports today. The Philippine women were with several other people in a car driven by a local. “Two gunmen forced the two girls out of the car at gunpoint and took them to an unidentified location,” police captain Hamed al-Obeidi told Anadolu Agency.
The driver was taken for questioning at a police station in Diyala province. Dozens of members of the security forces have been targeted in recent months and civilians have been victimized by “fake checkpoints” built by ISIS members who disguise themselves in fake uniforms and then execute people on the road or kidnap them.
The full details of the kidnapping of the Filipina women is not clear because they were said to be traveling to Erbil from Kirkuk. The women were in a car with three other people from the Philippines. “Unknown men drove by in a yellow car and took them,” a military source told media.
Thousands of Philippines citizens work in Iraq, including in Erbil. During the Kirkuk crises in 2017 the embassy warned citizens against travel to Kirkuk because of clashes between Baghdad and the Kurdistan region. 13 died in a hotel fire in 2016. In 2004 the Philippines withdrew its 51-member humanitarian force after insurgents threatened to execute a truck driver named Angelo De la Cruz they had kidnapped. He was kidnapped near Fallujah.
Security has deteriorated on the road from Baghdad to Erbil and Mosul over the last six months. Every day brings news of more attacks, some of them criminal or tribal feuds, and more operations by the Iraqi government against ISIS. For instance an Iraqi Brig. Gen was killed on the Diyala road on July 6. In Badush ISIS, disguised with uniforms, killed four people on July 4. In Baquba eight Iraqis were murdered by ISIS at a fake checkpoint on July 8. PMU members killed two ISIS members near Hawija on July 7 and the Iraqi Army 5th Division also killed several other ISIS members near the Hamrin mountains the same day.
Kidnappings of foreigners were rare in Iraq over the last years despite the war on ISIS and security improved in Baghdad and other areas. However with the defeat of ISIS in Mosul and the end of major operations in December 2017, instability has returned to areas between Kirkuk and Baghdad. Part of this relates to the dispute between Baghdad and the KRG and lawless areas that were never stabilized such as in Hawija and areas around the Hamrin mountains. But the large issues likely relate to other problems. Shi’ite militias have been targeted as well by the fake checkpoints run by ISIS disguised in uniforms. 27 members of the PMU were killed in one incident in February.
The kidnapping of the Filipina women should be seen in this context of increased lawlessness and insecurity in Iraq in the area between Baghdad and Erbil. Lack of a new government after the elections this year has added to the problem. Despite recent discussions about arming Sunni Shammar tribesmen and joint patrols by Peshmerga and the Iraqi Security Forces, a comprehensive plan to bring security to the roads and villages has not been found. As our report about the Shammar tribe indicated, the situation represents a major threat to Iraq after the country declared an end to major anti-ISIS operations.