Iraq’s Forces Seize Kirkuk from Iraqi Kurdistan

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Iraq forces in the office of the departed Kirkuk Governor, October 16, 2017

Iraq Government forces moved quickly on Monday to seize the contested city of Kirkuk in the north from Iraqi Kurdistan, where voters chose independence in late September.

With the defeat of the Islamic State in all its major positions in the north, the prospect of a clash between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government — who were on the same side in the fight versus the Islamic State — has risen.

Last week Iraqi officials began to speak of an operation to take Kirkuk and nearby oilfields, in a contested area populated by Kurds, Turkmens, and Arabs. However, as late as Friday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pushed back the reports as “fake news”: “[Our military] cannot and will not attack our citizens, whether Arab or Kurd.”

Over the weekend, emissaries from Baghdad conducted secret talks with Kurdish opposition forces to negotiate a withdrawal. Yesterday Iraqi forces — using US-supplied armored vehicles and equipment, similar to that provided by Washington to the Kurdish peshmerga — swept into the city of about 1 million people. They soon moved into an industrial district on the western edge, a power plant and refinery adjacent to the oilfields, and a military airport to the west.

Most peshmerga — notably those of one of Kurdistan’s two leading factions, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan — stood down and left, but skirmishes with one Kurdish group linked to the Kurdistan Democratic Party killed almost 30 people and wounded dozens.

A Kurdish commander, Gen. Mohammed Raiger, said that his forces had mounted a counterattack about 15 miles west of the city and that reinforcements with “sophisticated weapons” had arrived. The Kurdish Regional Government’s security council said peshmerga fighters had destroyed five US-supplied Humvees and and would continue to resist them.

Hospitals in Kirkuk Province said 22 peshmerga and 7 Iraqi soldiers were killed. Wounded included 11 Kurdish fighters, four Iraqi soldiers, and 54 civilians.

Iraqi militia removing the flag of the Kurdish Regional Council:

Celebration for Some in Kirkuk, Flight for Others

Some Arab and Turkmen residents fired weapons into the air in celebration and cheered as Iraqi forces removed the Kurdish flag that had flown over the Kirkuk Governor’s compound, leaving the Iraqi flag mounted beside it. Iraqi troops ran over posters of KRG President Masoud Barzani, stood on images of the Kurdish flag, and posed in the Governor’s office, sitting in his chair.

Thousands of Kurdish residents left the city. Officials in Baghdad said Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim had left for the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil.

The US-led coalition tried to portray clashes as “a misunderstanding” and “not deliberate as two elements tried to link up under limited visibility conditions” at night.

Spokesman Ryan Dillon, said US forces in the area were observing but were not involved in the fighting:

We are monitoring the situation closely and strongly urge all sides to avoid additional escalatory actions. We opposed violence from any party, and urge against destabilizing actions that distract from the fight against ISIS and further undermine Iraq’s stability.

On September 25, almost 93% of Kurdistan’s people supported independence in a 72% turnout. But the KRG has had to calculate its next move, with the ballot condemned by its neighbors, including Iran and Turkey, and the US.

The Kurdish authority is heavily dependent on revenue from the oil trade, half of it from the Kirkuk region.

Kurdish forces occupied Kirkuk, and nearby areas 2014 after Iraqi troops fled the sudden Islamic State offensive in June 2014 that captured Iraq’s second city Mosul, Tikrit, and parts of the north.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. “the prospect of a clash between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government — who were on the same side in the fight versus Iraq “

    I suppose the “Iraq” here refers to some grand ideal of a country not rendered irreparable by ethno-religious fissures.

  2. Supreme Kurdish Leader “President” Masoud Barzani, who also cyber-squats the office of generalísimo-in-chief of all Kurdish armed forces, informed all Peshmerga units to not initiate a war with the Iraqi forces, but if attacked, then they are given the “green light to use every power” to fight against advancing forces, Hemin Hawrami, a senior assistant to “President” Barzani, said.

    Apparently, however, the vast majority of Peshmerga took this as a “green light” to dust off and instantly scarper, preferring to conserve any remaining power to jog towards their unpaid back-wages still owed by the voracious despot of Erbil:
    http://www.rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/151020177

    This underwhelming military leadership has resulted in a rash of salty outbursts by readers of Rudaw.net, the Barzani house organ, for example:

    A Kurd in exile | 9 hours ago
    This is what happens when a nation does not have a unified national army under one unified command of a national military organization. What we have in Bashur Kurdistan is two armies, each loyal to a different political party (KDP or PUK). In 2014, when ISIS attacked Shingal, the KDP-associated Peshmerga forces that were in charge of defending that city, for some reasons, abandoned their positions and left the poor Yazidis to fend for themselves; and we all know what happened to the Yazidis. Now, the PUK-associated Peshmerga were in charge of defending Kirkuk. Again, for some reasons, last night they too abandoned their positions and gave the city to the enemy. What is even more depressing about the story is the fact that in the case of Shingal, no political or military leader associated with the KDP and its Peshmerga was brought before a political or military institution to explain his action and answer for his betrayal of the nation. And I am sure that no one from the PUK and its Peshmerga will be brought before a political or military institution to explain his action and answer for his betrayal of the nation either. With a situation like this (and as a Kurdish nationalist, it brings tears to my eyes to say this), do we today really deserve independence? And why shouldn’t our enemies take advantage of the weaknesses caused by our divisions? If the Iranian general Qasem Suleimani negotiates with the PUK leadership and somehow encourages them to betray their Kurdish brothers and sisters, we cannot blame him. He is pursuing and defending his own country’s national interests. We should look at the mirror and blame ourselves. I sincerely hope and pray that someday, someone, a brave Kurdish leader (even if he is a tyrant like Hitler or Saddam Hussein), will rise up among us and get rid of all these divisions and clan mentality that has plagued our nation for so long, and will unite the nation and its armed forces under one flag and one command. And I also hope that I will still be alive to see that day, because I do not want to leave this life heartbroken, as I am right now.
    http://www.rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/161020173

    Meanwhile Turks and Iranians are busy sealing up the KRG borders, by handing the posts over to Iraqi troops who have by arrangement dropped in behind their lines, which means the oil pipeline to Ceyhan should also shortly be snipped off, making the economic blockade & NFZ more or less hermetic:
    http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-closes-air-space-to-n-iraq-flights-120952

    After six months of enforced penury, if Barzani’s still sucking wind, he’ll be in a much more amenable mood for ‘negotiations’.

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