7.2 magnitude earthquake jolts Iran-Iraq border area

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTANI NEWS AGENCY ‘DAWN’)

 

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook Iraq on Sunday, authorities said, without causing any casualties or major damage in the country or in neighboring Iran and Turkey where it was also felt.

The temblor was centred 32 kilometres southwest of Halabja, near the northeastern border with Iran, the US Geological Survey said.

It struck the mountainous area of Sulaimaniyah province at 9:18 pm (local time) at a depth of 33.9 kilometres (21 miles), the monitor said.

It was felt for about 20 seconds in Baghdad, and sometimes for longer in other provinces of Iraq, AFP journalists said.

In the province of Sulaimaniyah, located in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, residents ran out onto the streets at the time of the quake and some minor property damage was recorded, an AFP reporter said.

In Iran, the ISNA news agency said that the earthquake was felt in several cities in the west of the country including Tabriz.

In southeastern Turkey, the earthquake was felt “from Malatya to Van”, an AFP correspondent said. In the town of Diyarbakir, residents also left their homes before returning.

U.S. Government Commits Treason Against Its Kurdish Allies; Again

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Michael Weiss is a national security analyst for CNN and author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.”

(CNN)Two weeks ago, one of Iraq’s top security officials asked a trusted Kurdish intermediary to deliver a message to Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the semiautonomous fief in northern Iraq which has been something of an American protectorate since 1991.

“Tell Massoud that war is coming if he doesn’t back off,” Hadi al-Ameri said, according to someone privy to the conversation. “Do not provoke us by counting on the Americans.”
Ameri was referring to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, has controlled militarily for three years and politically for even longer.   Iraqi forces had left the city in 2014 as their war with ISIS raged, but now that the terrorist group was on the run, Iraq had every intention of recapturing it.

Michael Weiss

On October 16 some 9,000 Iraqi government forces, including Shia militias under the command of Ameri, invaded and took Kirkuk in a matter of hours. With rare exception, Kurdish peshmerga, a professionalized guerrilla army, whose name translates as “those who face death,” retreated northward in a snaking, convoy of Humvees, tanks and armored vehicles. Tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians also fled to Erbil, the capital of the KRG, where officials were plunged into a state of late-night chaos and confusion.
Long considered the Kurds’ Jerusalem, Kirkuk had fallen without much of a fight. And what violence did occur was between two US allies, with American taxpayer-financed weaponry. American-made Abrams tanks operated by Iraqi forces fired on American-armed Kurdish peshmerga, who returned fire, destroying at least five American-made Humvees.
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This is because in spite of its meek professions of neutrality, Washington did take a side in this conflict: that of Iraq’s central government. But it did more than that by attempting to minimize the role its regional adversary, Iran, apparently played in the reconquest of Kirkuk. The commander of the Quds Force, the foreign expeditionary arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, was reportedly instrumental in the Kirkuk operation.
Nothing better illustrates the incoherence of America’s stance in the Middle East than the fact that it turned out to be on the same side as Major General Qasem Soleimani, who occupies a status within US intelligence circles somewhere between Professor Moriarty and Darth Vader. He and his proxies are believed by US officials to have caused hundreds of American fatalities and injuries on the battlefields of Iraq.
Yet it’s hard to overstate what the Iranian operative has just pulled off. Not only did Soleimani out-marshal and humiliate Washington by brokering a cleverer and more cynical deal, which undercut its own vain attempts at conflict resolution, but he was then rewarded with US legitimization of his scheme. (Iran officially denied any involvement in the recapture of Kirkuk.)
All this occurred less than 72 hours after President Trump heralded a get-tough-on-Iran policy, which included the designation of Soleimani’s parent body, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, as a terrorist organization. In his strategy statement, Trump said: “The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia,” and he promised, “We will work with our allies to counter the regime’s destabilizing activity and support for terrorist proxies in the region.”
Except the US just did the opposite in Kirkuk and alienated its longest and most stalwart counter-terrorism ally in Iraq, who, as the Kurds like to remind us, have never burned American flags much less attacked American soldiers.

Kirkuk on edge after Peshmerga pushed out

Kirkuk on edge after Peshmerga pushed out 02:31
“We had so much trust in America,” a top Kurdish officer told me last week. “We never thought America would accept Iranian proxies using American weapons against their allies.”  One of his colleagues put it even more plangently than that: “It might be better if we just join Iran’s axis.”
Such are the paradoxes and unintended consequences of how America wages its never-ending war on terror — by alienating its friends and empowering its enemies — in the name of national security.

America’s singular focus on ISIS

In the three years since ISIS stormed the Iraqi city of Mosul in June 2014, the United States has had monomaniacal tactical focus on smashing Sunni extremist head-loppers at the expense of underwriting its long-term strategic interests.
In a rush to dismantle the so-called caliphate, Washington has assembled and empowered a host of sectarian actors with antagonistic agendas who have been forced into a tenuous polygamous marriage of convenience. But now that ISIS is on its back foot — it just lost its de facto capital of Raqqa in the same week as the Kirkuk drama, in large part because of the spadework of another Kurdish-led proxy army — that marriage is disintegrating.
“For America, it’s all about counterterrorism and ISIS,” said Emma Sky, the British former governorate coordinator of Kirkuk during the US-led occupation of Iraq. “Across the region, ISIS isn’t people’s number-one enemy. They’re more at odds with each other. The US still doesn’t understand this.”
For the Kurds, the power struggles are as much internal as they are external.  The Kirkuk crisis would almost certainly not have happened without two precipitating events which fell within quick succession of each other.
The first was a referendum for independence held on September 25. A symbolic, non-binding plebiscite, and the second since the US toppled Saddam in 2003, it nonetheless drew opposition from every regional and Western government (save Israel’s), which argued that the referendum violated the sovereignty and geographical integrity of Iraq — concepts that hold mythical sway in foreign ministries more than they reflect brute reality in a deeply balkanized Iraq.
Conceived by Massoud Barzani and sold as a prelude to the world’s largest stateless people, long reliant on the caprices and mercies of the great powers, attaining their century-long dream of establishing a homeland, the referendum was a domestic political victory in its breadth even if an international defeat. Ninety-three percent of Kurds voted in favor of independence, in defiance of just about everybody, not least of all Baghdad and Washington.
The second precipitating event was the death of Jalal Talabani, the first non-Arab president of Iraq and the eminence grise of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, one of two shot-calling parties in Iraqi Kurdistan. Headquartered in the governorate of Sulaimaniya, the PUK had also commanded the peshmerga in Kirkuk and so the near-bloodless loss of the city on Monday can only have happened because of a prearranged agreement between that party and Baghdad.
Absent from the backroom dealmaking was the other, stronger shot-caller, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, based in Erbil. This party is headed by Barzani and his family, who control the KRG’s foreign policy and their own peshmerga paramilitary.

Kurds’ ‘Game of Thrones’

Iraq's President's Jalal Talabani attends the 11th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit in Istanbul on December 23, 2010.

For decades, the PUK and KDP — which is to say the House of Talabani and the House of Barzani — have vied for dominance in northern Iraq, often aligning with their mortal enemy Saddam Hussein to get the better of the other in internecine disputes which have devolved into civil war. In recent years, the PUK has developed a close working relationship with Qasem Soleimani.
The plan was apparently set in motion around the time of Talabani’s memorial ceremony in Baghdad on October 8. The dead leader’s eldest son Bafel met with Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, according to a senior KDP official I spoke to, who speculated that Bafel “saw the obvious, an opening in the Kurdish political parties to exploit in his family’s interests.” Days later, Soleimani paid a call on Bafel to reaffirm Abadi’s seriousness, according to Reuters, citing a PUK official.
Bafel was almost certainly acting under the instructions of Jalal’s widow, Hero Talabani, who along with her sister Shahnaz, represent what remains of the Talabani brain trust.
“Jalal was the tactician, the strategist, everything,” Nibras Kazimi, an Iraqi scholar and former advisor to the US Department of Defense, told me. “Hero and her sister were the enforcers. They handled money, they handled keeping people in line.” But now their patriarch is dead, and their futures uncertain.
Challengers exist within the PUK to assume Jalal’s throne, chief among them KRG’s Vice President Kostrat Rasoul Ali and, the governor of Kirkuk, up until Monday, Najmaldin Karim, who are seen as Hero’s top rivals within the party.  Perhaps not coincidentally, both not only opposed Baghdad’s reclamation of Kirkuk but were also driven from the city the instant it happened — in Ali’s case, after peshmerga fighters loyal to him put up some resistance to Iraqi forces.
“If I go back, my life is in danger,” Karim told Bloomberg. “Even the night when all this happened, I had to maneuver carefully to go to safety.”

Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control

Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control 01:45
In this telling, Hero has cast herself as a kind of Cersei Lannister of Kurdistan after her husband’s demise, seeking to secure her political relevance and enormous fortune — the Talabanis are thought to be worth millions — by cutting a deal with Iran’s master operative to undermine Barzani and scatter her enemies within the PUK. Not bad for someone unused to strategizing.
Bafel Talabani rejects the claim that the PUK and Iran orchestrated their own deal. “Unfortunately we reacted too slowly,” he told Reuters. “And we find ourselves where we are today.” (Attempts to reach Saddi Pira, the head of the PUK’s foreign relations, for comment on this story were unsuccessful.)
One US national security official believes that machinations by Hero Talabani are the real story of the Kirkuk debacle. “Look at the crowd Barzani managed to draw in Sulaimaniya on the eve of the referendum,” that official told me. “It was something like 25,000 people. Hero could never draw such numbers on her own. You think that didn’t factor into calculations about what to do about Kirkuk?” Rather than submit to Barzani’s dominance in the absence of her force-of-nature husband, she’s underwritten her longevity by siding with Abadi and Soleimani.
Working in her favor is the fact that Iraq’s prime minister is up for re-election in 2018.  A Shia ally of Washington and Tehran, Abadi is looking to capitalize on his government’s military victory against ISIS and brand himself the standard-bearer of Iraqi nationalism. The prime minister is facing fierce competition next year.  Among his likely opponents are former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, another Shia from Abadi’s own political party, whose sectarian thuggishness against Sunni Iraqis helped invite ISIS back into the country; and Hadi al-Ameri, the Iraqi security chief who delivered the message to Barzani and is not just considered as close to Iran by US intelligence, but an active agent of Iran. (Ameri fought on Iran’s side in the Iran-Iraq War under the aegis of the IRGC.)
To stand a chance at being given another term next year, Abadi had to regain Kirkuk — no premier can allow it to fall outside the hands of the central government. And he needed Tehran’s help, from which he only stands to benefit in a forthcoming context with Iranian surrogate contenders for the leadership.  “Iran wanted to expand its influence and remove the last obstacle to control all of Iraq,” a KDP official told me. “The whole operation was planned and executed by Qassem Soleimani.”

A busy Sunday

KDP officials blame the Talabanis for reneging on a late-hour agreement, brokered on the eve of the Kirkuk recapture, about how to proceed with negotiations over the fate of the city with Baghdad. At a meeting held in Dukan, Sulaimaniya, on October 15, Massoud Barzani, his son and intelligence chief Masrour, his nephew and KRG prime minister Nechirvan sat down with their PUK counterparts, including Hero and Bafel.
According to one of the attendees of the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Bafel told the KDP that he had consulted Abadi as well as Americans and British diplomats about reintroducing Iraqi forces into Kirkuk. However, Bafel apparently denied reaching any formal agreement with Abadi; he was merely tabling a proposal for further dialogue with the central government and both powerhouse Kurdish parties.
Kirkuk fell within 24 hours.

Kirkuk governor: Time is right for Kurds' vote

Kirkuk governor: Time is right for Kurds’ vote 05:25
According to the The New Yorker, Soleimani met that same day with PUK officials in Sulaimaniya, not long after the bipartisan confab in Dukan had wrapped up. “It’s not clear what was included in the deal,” journalist Dexter Filkins wrote, “but the speculation is that [Soleimani] offered a mix of threats and inducements, including money and access to oil-smuggling routes.”
Whether or not the US actively tried to forestall such side action is beside the point because the Kurds now view it as an accomplice to the seizure of its Jerusalem, a psychic scar already being likened to Saddam’s “Arabization” policies of the mid-1970s when forced population transfers changed the demography of Kirkuk from a city with a Kurdish majority into one with a plurality of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

America’s misfire

Reproach is the soap of the soul in the Middle East, where American allies have a habit of speaking melodramatically when slighted or jilted, only to then return to the fold when they once again realize that aligning with even an unreliable superpower is better than not doing so. (The Kurds are first among equals in this regard.) But American credibility has taken a lashing in the last week. And even an overly emotional KDP can point, convincingly, to a trifecta of falsehoods coming from Washington.
First, the Pentagon denied any untoward military buildup south of Kirkuk by Iraqi government forces in preparation for the city’s takeover. On October 12, Major General Robert White, the commanding general of US ground troops in Iraq, told reporters that Iraqi forces, including Shia militias, were in positions to the south of Kirkuk but only in order to protect the city of Hawija, which had just been freed of ISIS, from a jihadist resurgence. “And they haven’t moved since they occupied,” White said.
Nonsense, said a senior Kurdish intelligence officer. “We were feeding solid intelligence to coalition members, including the US, about Iraqi deployments. Detailed information on locations, numbers, groups and types of weapons in the field — including American weapons — days in advance of the operation.”
I asked the US Army Public Affairs office if General White still stood by his assessment that Iraqi deployments were only in Hawija on an anti-ISIS mission. A spokesperson for the office didn’t respond in time for publication.
I was shown an email sent by a Kurdish intelligence officer to various US lawmakers on October 12. “We are facing an unprecedented military threat by Iraq and its Shiite militias,” the email read, “[a]nd possibly an imminent attack. “Thousands have been deployed near Kurdish front lines. These areas have zero ISIS presence. They are armed with heavy weapons, some American in fact, including tanks, armored vehicles, mortars and artillery.”
The office of one US senator who received the email confirmed its authenticity but stressed that information delivered by foreign intelligence service takes time to vet and corroborate.
Next, Central Command called the exchange of artillery and gunfire between some PUK commanders who resisted orders to evacuate and Iraqi forces a “misunderstanding” and professed not to take a “side” between Baghdad and Erbil, a position President Trump, who once famously mistook the Quds Force as a Kurdish entity, reiterated on Tuesday on the White House lawn.
Finally, the Pentagon denied that any Shia militias were in Kirkuk. This, in spite of the demonstrable fact that Hadi al-Ameri and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes, whom the US Treasury Department sanctioned in 2009 and described as an “advisor” to Soleimani, were present for the lowering of the Kurdistan flag at the city’s provincial council building, and the raising of the Iraqi one. (Al-Muhandes was convicted in absentia in Kuwait and sentenced to death for planning lethal terrorist attacks against the US and French embassies there in 1983.)
The head of one notorious Shia militia, the League of the Righteous, which in 2007 killed five US servicemen in the Iraqi city of Karbala, even publicly thanked the PUK for its cooperation in the Kirkuk handover. “We salute and appreciate the courageous position of the peshmerga fighters who refused to fight their brothers in the Iraqi forces,” he tweeted.
The US has also, bizarrely, downplayed Soleimani’s role in the Kirkuk affair. One State Department official told reporters last Thursday, “I’m not aware of any Iranian involvement in that, per se” —   an assessment the Kurds find risible at best and iniquitous at worst.
The US dismissal of Iranian aggression against Iraqi Kurds also carries troubling implications in Syria.
A race-to-Berlin scenario is unfolding between US backed Kurdish-led paramilitaries and Bashar al-Assad’s army in the campaign against ISIS in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, the former military attache at the US embassy in Damascus and a CNN contributor, Washington’s wishy-washiness on the Kirkuk question has sent a stark message to its other Kurdish allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces, as the US-backed forces are called: “We may not be there to protect you, either.”
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“Once ISIS has lost all or most of its territory in Syria as it has in Iraq, the Syrian regime will attempt to reassert its control over the areas now held by the SDF,” Francona  told me. “The Iraqis have set a precedent for that.”
And if Assad and his Soleimani-built militias try to reclaim territory gained by the Syrian Kurds, will the U.S. defend or abandon its friends in that fight?
“There is no doubt that Barzani overreached with his ill-timed referendum and his belief in America’s unqualified support for him,” said Sir John Jenkins, the former British ambassador to Iraq. “But it should never have got to this point. It may not be about Iran for Abadi. But sure as hell it’s about Iran for Iran. They must be loving it.”

Hundreds of Iraqi Christian Families Forced to Flee Again After Resettling

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

 

Hundreds of Iraqi Christian Families Forced to Flee Again After Resettling in Town Liberated From ISIS

(PHOTO: REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH)Displaced Iraq Christians who fled from Islamic State militants in Mosul, pray at a school acting as a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq, September 6, 2014.

Hundreds of Iraqi Christian families who recently returned to their hometown after being displaced for years by the Islamic State were forced to flee again from a town in northern Iraq because of conflict between Iraqi government forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

A source with knowledge of the situation told The Christian Post that hundreds of families in the Kurdish town of Telskuf were warned by the Iraqi army on Tuesday evening to flee the town because Iraqi forces were planning to retake the Kurdish-controlled town with heavy weapons and shelling on Wednesday after skirmishes and gunfire broke out during the day on Tuesday.

About 1,000 Christian families had settled back into the town, which lies about 20 miles north of Mosul, after it was liberated from the Islamic State a year ago. The town has been viewed as somewhat of a model for the return of Christians to their ancient homeland in the Nineveh Plains.

But after the warning from the Iraqi army, nearly all of the Christians who had returned to Telskuf after being displaced from their homes fled their hometown again and sought shelter in the town of Alqosh. According to the source, the only people who stayed in Telskuf were a priest and a handful of people who worked for the local church.

Although they were forced to evacuate in preparation for a military showdown, the source told CP many of the Christian families were in the process of returning to the town on Wednesday afternoon after external diplomatic pressure applied to the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi government created an “uneasy peace.”

“After a lot of outcry from a number of different quarters, people are moving back to the town from Al Qosh,” the source explained. “There is kind of an uneasy peace and a hope that this will be resolved without conflict in the town.”

“This is the town that the Hungarian government put $2 million into rebuilding and was the model for repopulation minority communities and towns that had been [taken over] by ISIS,” the source added. “As you can imagine, the Hungarians are not happy about this town being in the line of fire. Nobody wants this to be collateral damage in a contest between these two entities. It’s a Christian town and you have the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army fighting over it and the people who had just faced genocide and just moved home are going to be the unintended victims here.”

Carl Anderson, head of the Catholic-fraternal organization and advocacy group Knights of Columbus, said during a speech at the 2017 In Defense of Christians solidarity dinner in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night that the U.S. government played a role in helping defuse the situation in Telskuf. Anderson made the remark before introducing keynote speaker, Vice President Mike Pence.

“We are very grateful that just this evening American government involvement was able to stop the planned battle for Telskuf — a town in Nineveh recently liberated from ISIS and rebuilt with a $2 million grant from the government of Hungary,” Anderson said. “The destruction of that town could have been in a very real way, the beginning of the end of Christianity in Iraq. There are so few towns left that every one of them is precious. While the peace is fragile, we are grateful for our government’s attention to this issue. We hope that the vice president will convey our gratitude to the president for this action.”

Although tensions have been lowered in Telskuf, the source told CP that “it’s touch-and-go and it could still go sideways.”

“If this had gone really badly, people there were saying that this would basically be the end of Christianity in Iraq,” the source asserted. “If a Western government-rebuilt town where everybody had moved home after the genocide — the big success story — went upside down, how could people see any future there?”

Displaced Christian communities in Iraq have had a hard time resettling to their hometowns because they have experienced a shortage of funding and have received very little, if any, resources from the U.S. government and the United Nations to rebuild the infrastructure in their towns.

Although the Hungarian government, the Knights of Columbus and other humanitarian organizations have supported rebuilding efforts in some Iraqi Christian communities, advocates have cried out for foreign governments to provide more support.

On Wednesday, Pence answered that call, telling a roomful of Christian leaders from the Middle East that President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. State Department to provide aid directly to faith-based organizations and other groups serving the displaced Christian and other religious minority communities.

“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” Pence explained. “The United States will work hand-in-hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted.”

According to Kurdistan 24, four civilians were injured by shelling from an Iranian-backed paramilitary allied with the Iraqi forces in Telskuf on Tuesday. Two of those injured were Christians.

In 40 Minutes A Life Time Of Work Is Gone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

When Iraqi government forces seized control of the contested city of Kirkuk on Monday, hundreds of Kurdish families were sent scattering to nearby safe havens.

The swift military operation came just weeks after Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence in a controversial referendum that was condemned by the United States and Baghdad.
The loss of Kirkuk and its nearby oil fields is a setback for Kurds, who have held the city — home to more than one million people — for the last three years. The Kurds took control of the city after it was abandoned by Iraqi forces during ISIS’ lightning offensive in 2014, but it lies outside the recognized borders of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.
Now, driven out of Kirkuk, with their dreams of building a separate nation in northern Iraq suffering a major setback, displaced Kurds are still reeling.

Families flee Kirkuk on the road to Erbil and Sulaymaniyah on Monday.

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From noisy cafés and bars, to the quiet of people’s homes, everyone in Erbil — the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq — is trying to make sense of what happened.
Many of the Kirkuk residents who fled to Erbil for fear of potential clashes expressed their displeasure, grief, and shock that Iraqi troops — backed by Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units — were able to take the city in a single day.
The same forces were later cheered on by Arab and Turkmen residents on Monday as they removed a Kurdish flag that had flown over the Kirkuk governor’s office.
“The shock is too great and I cannot imagine what happened overnight, especially after all the threat and intimidation of the Peshmerga forces against those approaching the province,” Samal Omar, a 33-year-old government employee, told CNN.
“We fled to Erbil before noon on Monday when we heard that the Popular Mobilization [Units] would enter Kirkuk for fear of aggression.”

Some residents celebrate after Iraqi forces took control of Kirkuk on Monday.

Some Kurdish civilians said they took up arms and deployed to the streets in an attempt to ward off the Iraqi army operation.
One of them, Mohamed Werya, 37, said he didn’t sleep for two consecutive days before fleeing Erbil.
“I saw officials leave and I said to myself, ‘why should I stay and danger my life and my family?'” Werya said, describing chaotic scenes as people scrambled to flee the city. “What I saw on the road I have not seen before, only during the [Kurdish] uprising of 1991.”
“Who is responsible for what happened?” he asked.
A version of the same question was echoed by other Kurds.

Kurdish forces open fire on Iraqi troops in the streets in Kirkuk on Monday.

“I cannot express my sorrow and my displeasure. But the question is, why did the Peshmerga forces withdraw? Why they did not they tell us earlier and we lived in a strong feeling that there was someone defending us?” Abu Mahmoud, 55, asked.
“I did not expect the effort of many years lost in 40 minutes,” he added.
There was still much confusion over what transpired during the clashes between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with reports of a split between Kurdish factions. The Peshmerga General Command accused members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a political party within the Kurdistan region, of abandoning their posts as Iraqi forces entered, in what it described as a betrayal.

Kirkuk residents cross a Kurdish checkpoint in Altun Kupri on Monday.

“No one understands what exactly happened,” said Fouad Aziz, 40, who fled Kirkuk for Sulaymaniyah, while his brother went to Erbil. “There are accusations against the Kurdish parties in the region, some accused of deception and leaving the fighting sites.”
“We were welcomed by the people of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah in a way we did not expect,” he added.
Dozens of young people lined the road to Erbil on Monday, handing out food and water to those fleeing, while other Erbil residents opened their doors to those displaced by the fighting.
Abu Nebez, 55, said he hosted dozens in his home.
“I welcomed in my house seven families consisting of 37 people, 14 of whom we do not know,” Nebez said. “They were on the main road in a deplorable condition when they fled from Kirkuk to Erbil.”

Locals wave to Iraqi forces as they arrive in southern Kirkuk on Monday.

On Tuesday, some Kurdish residents began to trickle back into Kirkuk, wary of what might come next.
Qais Book, a Kurdish blogger and social media consultant who lives in Kirkuk, stayed behind as others fled on Monday.
He watched the celebration in the governor’s square, as Arab and Turkmen residents celebrated.
“There are many different feelings in the city now,” Book said. “Some people feel disappointed about what happened, especially the Kurdish people, and some of the Arabs, because they were loyal to the Kurds here. And they feel sorry because many Kurdish families left their houses here and fled to Kurdistan.”
“The city is calm now, but people are waiting to see what happens next.”

Kurds Feel Twice Betrayed Iraqi Forces Take Disputed Kirkuk

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM NEWS)

 

Kurds Feel Twice Betrayed as Iraqi Forces Take Disputed Kirkuk

Armed Kurdish civilians set-up checkpoints in Kirkuk Monday morning as they tried to prevent Kurdish peshmerga fighters from evacuating the city as Iraqi government forces advanced.

The peshmerga left along with tens of thousands of fleeing civilians that jammed the road from Kirkuk to Erbil. Resident burnt tires and shouted “shame on you,” while some civilians pointed guns as the peshmerga departed.

By mid-afternoon, the Kurds had lost control of Kirkuk, Iraq’s most contested city. Young Arab men hung an Iraqi flag from a bridge as American-made Humvees rolled through the streets, closely followed by pick-up trucks filled with fighters from the mostly-Shia Popular Mobilization Forces.

“Now all Kirkuk can see this flag,” said Abdullah Gubal as he hung it over a billboard for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the leading Kurdish political party in Kirkuk.

Claimed by both the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional authority in Erbil, the fate of Kirkuk should have been decided by referendum a decade ago. Kurds took control of Kirkuk when Iraqi forces fled ISIS’s advance in June of 2014. The Kurdish leadership vowed they wouldn’t hand the city back. But Kirkuk’s government buildings and Kurdish party headquarters were virtual empty Monday and residents said they saw Kurdish officials and forces leave before the Iraqi forces advanced.

“They sold Kirkuk,” said Ahmad Mohamed holding his Kalashnikov at the edge of the city with a group of angry Kurdish volunteer fighters pledging to go back and push the Iraqi forces out.

“This is shame on the Kurdish leaders and most of the Kurdish commanders in Kirkuk,” said Wyra Ali. “They didn’t fire one bullet from their weapons. They should defended Kirkuk, but they didn’t.”

Hiwa Osman, a Kurdish analyst, says the peshmerga retreat may have been the result of both confusion and internal division. Since the Kurds’ controversial referendum on sovereignty last month, the division between the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the party of Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, and the PUK has been growing and many here believe the PUK struck a deal to hand over Kirkuk to Baghdad.

“One camp said stay at home,” says Osman. “The other camp said take your weapons and go in to the street.”

In the end, Iraqi forces and allied militias met little resistance in the urban center after clashes with forces outside the city. Overnight Iraqi forces took control of the areas outside the city and by afternoon American-trained elite forces had taken the Kurdish flag off the governors’ office and raised the Iraqi one instead.

Monday’s Iraqi advance on Kirkuk was spurred by the controversial Kurdish referendum on September 25. Washington and Baghdad both urged the Kurdish leadership to postpone the vote, but they went ahead. Since then, Baghdad has been increasing pressure on the Kurds’ semi-autonomous region — halting international flights out of the Kurds’ two international airports and threatening to take control of the borders.

Kurds were outnumbered, out-armed and also unsupported by the ally they share with Baghdad. Both the Iraqi forces entering the city today and the Kurdish forces that left, are funded, trained and equipped by the U.S. and allies in the fight against ISIS, putting Washington in difficult position.

“Where are the American planes?” asked another man. The pop of gunfire could be heard in the distance as the volunteer Kurdish fighters talked about heading in to Kirkuk.
President Donald Trump said Monday that the U.S. would not take sides in the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute. But Jennifer Cafarella, senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, says it’s this position and American tunnel vision on the fight against ISIS that allowed this situation to escalate.

“The U.S. is in a terrible position because we remained focused on the very narrow anti-ISIS mission,” says Cafarella, explaining the U.S. needed to be more engaged before these tensions between the Iraqis and the Kurds spiraled. She also cautions that while U.S. has not been involved, the Iranians have. “Now the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines asking for everyone to deescalate.”

Middle-East Plans Genocide Against Kurdish People: World Stays Silent

Genocide Is Being Planed Against The Kurdish People

 

The President of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan has for a long time been committing mass murder against the thousands of Kurdish people who live within the borders of Turkey. He and his government consider these people as his  enemy when these people really only want peace and a small piece of the land they already live on, to be their own. The Kurdish people are the fifth largest ethnicity in the middle-east, yet they technically have no homeland.

 

Now that the Kurdish people in Iraq have voted to ‘take’ the piece of land they already live on as their own Nation, more than just Erdogan’s hate has been turned upon these people. There are millions of Kurdish people who live in the region of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey so now these countries leaders are going to ban together against the Kurdish people also.

 

Hypocrisy Against The Kurd’s

 

Particularly in Iraq the Kurdish people have helped the Government in Baghdad to stay alive, and in power. Even the governments in Iran and Syria have greatly benefited from the Kurdish people fighting against the oppression of ISIS. Particularly in Iraq the governments military ran like scalded dogs when they were attacked by Isis. If not for the Kurdish fighters the ISIS fighters would right now have Baghdad as their Caliphate capitol. The government in Baghdad owes the Kurdish people their very lives yet they collude with Asps in Iran, Syria and Turkey to eliminate them. If it had not been for the Kurdish fighters all of these aforementioned countries would have had to have spent billions of more dollars and thousands of their won lives in defeating ISIS and kicking them out of their own countries. There are two other groups that I have not yet mentioned in this situation and that is the Hezbollah government in Lebanon and the government in Washington D.C..

 

Personally I first remember hearing of the Kurdish people in about 1990. What I have learned during this time is that the U.S. Government has used them in a ‘proxy since’ for at least this long and before it. We have used them and their desire for freedom and democracy as a tool of the CIA to fight against extremest in that area of the world. We make promises to them over and over again, then turn and walk away from them when they need us the most. Today, we send them items like military trucks and some small arms in their fight for their won right to life as a free people. The United States and the U.N. should at this very moment be working out a plan with the other countries in this region to create a Kurdish homeland, one homeland, not a ‘homeland’ inside all of the different countries.

 

Does the U.N. and the United States just stand by and allow a total elimination of millions of people whose only crime is wanting to be a free people? It is just my opinion but to me this whole region would be better served, the people of all of these countries would be better served with a peaceful Kurdistan as a neighbor, than to have another un-needed war. Give to these people the land they already possess as a thank you for the sacrifices they have given to help keep these other governments in power, especially concerning Iraq. It is the only intelligent path to be taken, one of free trade with all their neighbors along with friendship between the people and the governments. The other path leads only to genocide and if this is the chosen path that the War Drums beat, the leaders of the U.N. and in Washington should be taken to Times Square and flogged publicly with the tongues of the World for their hypocrisy. Then deported to live with their friends in Gaza City.

 

 

In Iraq’s tinderbox city, referendum sparks fears of sectarian war

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

In Iraq’s tinderbox city, referendum sparks fears of sectarian war

Updated 11:08 AM ET, Fri September 29, 2017

Kirkuk, Iraq (CNN)Major Adnan Majeed stands in front of a cement wall scrawled with the names of Kurdish fighters killed by ISIS. A mural of the Kurdish flag with a rising sun at its center, blanketed with specks of sand, forms the heart of this makeshift memorial.

It sits just steps away from the boundary of the would-be independent state of Kurdistan that Iraqi Kurds are seeking following the independence referendum this week.
“Whenever I pass through this memorial, I see the names of my friends and I feel sad,” says Majeed, head of this garrison in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

Majeed says scores of his troops have been killed fighting ISIS.

A meters-long bridge was once all that separated the Peshmerga from ISIS here. Majeed says scores of his troops were slain at this outpost while repelling the terror group’s repeated attempts to take control of the area.
It took the Peshmerga a year — and air cover from the United States-led coalition — to push ISIS back. These days, the terror group is a more comfortable 4 kilometers away from the outpost, holed up in the town of Hawija, the group’s last stronghold in Iraq.
American-supplied mine-resistant vehicles, known as MRAPs, are parked outside the outpost, and some soldiers wear patches reading “Shoulder to Shoulder with the US” sewn into their fatigues. But although Kurdish forces here are trained and supplied by the US, they do not have America’s support in their bid for independence.

The view from a sandbag sentry position looks out at ISIS territory in the distance.

The outpost was supposed to be one of the staging grounds to retake Hawija, but that hasn’t happened yet. Since the referendum was carried out against the wishes of Baghdad, much of what pertains to the operation remains in flux. Majeed and his men expected Iraqi army units to arrive on Tuesday, but there’s no sign of them. The commander is still waiting.
“I’m here and ready,” Majeed said. “Why the Iraqi army aren’t here, I don’t know.”
An Iraqi armed forces spokesman told CNN the Peshmerga were never expected to play a key role in the push on Hawija. He wouldn’t comment further on the timeline of his force’s arrival, citing security concerns.
Iraqi forces and Shia paramilitary groups have almost completely encircled Hawija, with the exception of a path to Kirkuk from the west, which stretches out in front of the watchtower. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the second phase of the campaign against Hawija Friday.
Retaking Hawija raises the specter of a large military build-up of Iraqi troops — and their paramilitary counterparts — just outside the Kurdish outpost. It is here that the next chapter in Iraq’s war-weary history may erupt.
Kurdish fighters can sometimes see the fight from their sandbag sentry post on the hillside, as jets from the US-led coalition whizz overhead.
Their military position defends Kirkuk, an oil-rich city claimed by both the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Baghdad has vehemently opposed the referendum, which was held across the KRG’s autonomous region and in disputed territories like Kirkuk.
Shortly before the referendum results were announced, Iraq’s parliament voted to authorize the deployment of troops to contested areas.
Iran and Turkey, which have their own sizable Kurdish populations, have repeatedly condemned the referendum. The United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations Security Council also opposed the vote, which they said would impede the fight against ISIS.
In what may signal the start of a series of punitive measures against Kurdish officials, Baghdad has ordered a halt to international flights to airports administered by the KRG, beginning Friday evening.

Kirkuk: the referendum’s tinderbox

Kirkuk has emerged as a flashpoint in Iraqi Kurdistan’s standoff with Baghdad for the same reasons ISIS fought so hard to capture it.
The province has one of the biggest oil fields in the country, something that is abundantly clear to anyone driving through the city, as the smell of oil wafts through the car windows. It also has an electricity plant that powers much of the surrounding areas.
Kurdish forces first took control of the city in 2014 amid their campaign against ISIS. The governor is Kurdish, as are most of the province’s council members.

The mural at the outpost on the edge of Kirkuk, just 4 kilometers from ISIS-controlled Hawija.

On Thursday, Kirkuk seemed quiet. Pedestrians were a rare sight on streets lined with bullet-scarred houses.
A multi-ethnic city whose population is made up of Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, and includes those from Christian, Shia and Sunni Muslim backgrounds, this place is no stranger to conflict; in recent days, however, tensions here have hit fever pitch.
Sheikh Burhan al-Mezher, an Arab tribal leader, says his community is “constantly under threat and at risk.” Showing CNN anonymous Facebook messages containing threats to harm his children, he says he “can only pray that this will end and God will bring peace and stability to the whole of Iraq.”
Skirmishes occurred almost nightly in the run-up to the referendum and at least one person died in the fighting, according to Ali Mehdi, the head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front.
The day before the poll, Mehdi told CNN that non-Kurds in the city were being pressured to vote “Yes.”
“The policies of the Kurds in Kirkuk (are) Saddam Hussein’s polic(ies),” says Mehdi, referring to the former Iraqi dictator, ousted following the US-led invasion in 2003.

A Peshmerga fighter looks at a billboard of Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani.

There have violent clashes between Turkmen and Kurds in Kirkuk in the wake of the vote. Turkey has warned that any attack on the region’s Turkmen minority would constitute a military red line.
“(The) Turkish army will intervene immediately if our Turkmen brothers (in the disputed Kirkuk province) are physically targeted,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

Fears of revenge attacks

Those fears are echoed elsewhere in Iraqi Kurdistan, albeit in hushed tones.
“We believe that the Kurdish people have the right to determine their fate … but Arabs are worried that any clashes that might happen in Kirkuk will lead to revenge attacks on us here,” says Ahmad Tayeb, 30, who has lived in the Kurdish capital of Erbil for 10 years. “We can handle a blockade, but we’re afraid of sectarian wars.”

Children holding Kurdish flags run through the streets of Kirkuk on Monday.

A few feet away from Tayeb, a former Peshmerga fighter squeezed on a bench next to a group of friends says he looks forward to the day Kurds are physically separated from Arabs.
“I want to be split from the Arabs,” says Bewyar Abdullah, 28. “For that reason, I voted — to break away from them. All of our history with them is violent. We are not Arab and people have to understand that.”
Two Arab women sit within earshot as he speaks, but Abdullah says he doesn’t care if they overhear him.
Other Kurds say they voted “Yes” because they want to see a democratic state that will respect the rights of minorities, something KRG President Masoud Barzani has pledged in multiple interviews.
“There would be no difference between Arab, Turkmen, Kurd, Persian or anyone in this state,” Kafiah al-Raouf Sadi, a voter, told CNN at a polling station in Erbil on Monday.

‘A right to defend ourselves’

Despite the possibility of military confrontation with Baghdad and Ankara, Kurdish troops in Kirkuk say there is nothing to fear.
“We’ve been like a thirsty man desperate for water, that’s how we’ve longed for our own own state, for our country,” says the Peshmerga’s Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Youssef.

Peshmerga inside the sentry post on the outskirts of Kirkuk

And Maj. Majeed says that for now, at least, it’s business as usual at his garrison.
“We are helping the Iraqi army because we have one enemy, which is ISIS,” he says. “Our headquarters has told us that we are not fighting Iraq. We are extending our hand in peace.
“But if they attack us, we have a right to defend ourselves.”

As Kurdish Borders Close, War of Words Heats Up

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Photo

Protesters gathered on Friday to condemn Iraq’s ban on international flights at the airport in Erbil, in the region where Kurds have voted for independence. CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times

ERBIL, Iraq — The president of Iraq’s Kurdish region warned on Friday that the Kurds might be forced to retaliate if the central government persists with what his spokesman called a “very aggressive” stance toward the pro-independence referendum.

Overseas flights were canceled on Friday from the international airport in Erbil, hours before a ban by the Iraqi government took effect, while officials in Baghdad warned that land borders might also be closed. There were also reports of internal highway closures.

“We are hopeful that these are all temporary measures,” said Vahal Ali, director of communications in the office of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish region’s president. “We want this to be a peaceful transition, but if Baghdad decides not, there is a lot we can also do.”

Mr. Ali was critical of threats by Baghdad to ask Turkey to cut a vital oil pipeline, which provides most of the estimated $8 billion the Kurdish region earns annually from oil revenue, and a request from the Iraqi parliament to move troops into the oil-rich, Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk. “Baghdad’s response to the referendum was very aggressive, so we don’t know what will happen,” the spokesman said.

Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence in a referendum on Monday, which Mr. Ali said obliges Mr. Barzani to negotiate independence from the rest of Iraq. Baghdad has refused to enter such negotiations, and Mr. Ali said that if it maintained that attitude, Kurdistan would be forced to unilaterally declare independence.

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“President Barzani was obligated to conduct the referendum and now is obligated to respond to that result,” Mr. Ali said. “We’ve repeatedly said we can negotiate, but that has to be on the question of independence.”

Kurdish officials have expressed dismay at the absence of support they have found internationally, with the United States and other powers, as well as the United Nations, critical of the decision to even hold the referendum, and none expressing approval for the pro-independence result.

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The airspace at Erbil’s international airport was closed at 6 p.m. local time. CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson bluntly expressed the American rejection of the referendum and its outcome in a statement released on Friday, saying “the vote and the results lack legitimacy.”

Hoshyar Zebari, who helped lead the referendum drive in the Kurdish region and was formerly Iraq’s foreign minister, said that criticism of the vote from the United States had “emboldened Baghdad” to take a hard-line position toward the Kurds. Baghdad’s threatened retaliation was, he said, “very damaging and provocative, and illogical and destructive.”

Mr. Ali said the Kurds were hopeful that international allies would eventually come around to the idea of Kurdish independence, and said they were heartened at some individual voices praising the referendum result. He cited, for instance, Charles E. Schumer of New York, the minority leader in the United States Senate, who on Wednesday praised the Kurdish independence vote.

Iraq’s influential Shia spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in his Friday sermon in the southern city of Karbala, was strongly critical of the Kurdish move. “Any individual steps toward division and separation and the attempt of making this thing reality will lead to internal and external reaction and bad consequences that would damage our dear Kurdish citizens in the first place and maybe lead to what is more dangerous than that, God forbid, and will give way for many regional and international sides to intervene in Iraqi affairs,” Ayatollah Sistani said.

On Friday, military officials in Baghdad confirmed that the strategic highway linking Mosul and the northern city of Dohuk, in Kurdish-held territory, was closed by the Iraqi military for several hours. In addition, protests by civilians forced the closure of the Kirkuk-Baghdad highway on Friday. Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq, said that land borders would also be closed between Iraq’s Kurdish region and Turkey and Iran, but there was no confirmation if that had happened.

The Iraq border agency announced that it was sending convoys of police officers and Interior Ministry officials to guard three key land border crossings between the Kurdish region and Syria, Turkey and Iran beginning on Saturday.

Mr. Ali said that he was aware of no such move and that it would be unconstitutional.

He said that cutting off the Kurdish region’s trade with Turkey, which he said totals $17 billion a year, would hurt everyone.

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Turkish and Iraqi forces participating in joint exercises in Turkey on Tuesday, near the border with Iraq’s Kurdish region. Iraq’s border agency is increasing security at three major border crossings between the Kurdish region and Iran, Syria and Turkey. CreditIlyas Akengin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He also warned of measures that the Kurdish regional government could take if Iraq’s crackdown on air travel and the borders continued, including severing internet and mobile telephone coverage, much of it based in the region, and even the supply of cement, most of which comes from the region.

“The list is very long. There’s a lot we can do, if we’re talking about that,” he said. “We could cut off communications. We can also close the Erbil International Airport to domestic flights, to Baghdad and Najaf.” That, he said, would hurt many Iraqi officials whose family members live in the Kurdish region. “The families of all their policy makers live in Erbil because it’s not safe in Baghdad anymore,” Mr. Ali said.

Mr. Ali also scoffed at Iraqi threats to move troops into Kirkuk, the oil-rich city claimed by both Arabs and Kurds. Kurdish forces took control of most of the city after Islamic State extremists chased the Iraqi army out in 2014.

“They’re talking about sending troops?” Mr. Ali asked. “They couldn’t enter Kirkuk under ISIS, they couldn’t liberate it then, and now?”

Flights after 5 p.m. on Friday were canceled by international airlines flying out of Erbil, according to travelers at the airport. The Iraqi ban took effect at 6 p.m.

Prime Minister Abadi’s office released a statement that the Kurdish region’s two international airports, in Erbil and Suleimaniya, could be reopened as soon as Kurdish officials transferred control of them to the federal government. Kurdish officials said that was not going to happen.

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The Kurdish region’s minister of transport, Mawlood Bowa Morad, accused the Iraqi government of having issued orders to shoot down any airliners that defied its ban on international flights into Erbil or Suleimaniya airports. “There is a military order that if any flights are coming in, they are going to shoot them down,” Mr. Morad said, during an interview at the nearly deserted Erbil airport after the 6 p.m. deadline had passed.

Producing his smartphone, Mr. Morad displayed a scan of what he described as a document that had come from a high official in Prime Minister Abadi’s office, issuing the shoot-down order to the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad. Officials in Mr. Abadi’s office said that the document was a forgery, and that the official who supposedly had signed it was a retiree with no authority.

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Iraqi Kurd’s Have Voted Overwhelmingly For Independence From Iraq

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Iraqi Kurds have voted overwhelmingly in favor of declaring independence from Iraq in a historic and controversial referendum that could have wide-ranging implications for the Middle East.

More than 92% of the roughly 3 million people who cast valid ballots on Monday voted “yes” to independence, according to official results announced by the Kurdish electoral commission on Wednesday.
The outcome represents a step towards independence for the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq and areas it claims, and puts Kurdish authorities on a collision course with their counterparts in Baghdad.
The poll took place despite vehement opposition from the Iraqi government, which described it as unconstitutional and has authorized use of force against Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan Regional Government, however, says the referendum will give it a mandate for talks to secede from Iraq, although Baghdad has already ruled out such talks.

Who are the Kurds?

Who are the Kurds? 01:40
On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for the referendum to be annulled and for the KRG to engage in dialogue as guided by the constitution. His comments come a day after he ordered the Kurds to yield control of their airports to the central government by Friday.
Several international flight operators have announced plans to cease flights to the region on Friday, including Egypt Air and Royal Jordanian Airlines. Iran closed its airspace on Sunday.
Nearly all neighboring regional powers objected to the referendum, warning that independence could further destabilize the region.
On Tuesday, KRG President Masoud Barzani hailed the preliminary results and urged the world to “respect the will of the people of Kurdistan.”
“Let’s engage in a serious dialogue and become good neighbors,” Barzani said during a televised speech.

Barzani appears at a pro-independence rally in Irbil on Friday.

The vote was held across the autonomous region and in disputed territories including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a flashpoint city claimed by both sides.
It comes as Kurdish forces play an instrumental role in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In helping to eliminate the terror group, Kurdish leaders appear to have expected the backing of the international community in pursuing nationalist aspirations.
But the referendum has received little support outside northern Iraq.
Both Iran and Turkey have sizable Kurdish minorities and fear the ballot might galvanize independence movements in their countries.
The United States, United Kingdom and the United Nations denounced the vote amid concerns that it could detract from the campaign against ISIS.
As voters cast their ballots Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the referendum as “illegal” and suggested Turkey could cut off oil exports from northern Iraq, depriving the KRG of a key source of revenue.
On Wednesday night, after the announcement of the voting results, Irbil’s main square was quiet — a sharp contrast to the revelry on the streets the night of the vote.
“I’m afraid of the situation,” said Ahmad Tayeb, 30, an Arab from Anbar who now lives in Irbil. “As Arabs, we’re worried that clashes in Kirkuk will lead to revenge on us here.”
Bewyar Abdullah, 28, a peshmerga fighter who was injured during war on Isis in Mosul, said he was at the square with friends. They expected large gatherings and fanfare but found none.
“Actually, I want to be split from the Arabs … For that reason I voted to break away from them,” he said. “We don’t understand why there are no celebrations.”
Israel is the only country in the region that supported the vote, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsing what he described as “the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state.”
European Union leaders issued a statement on Wednesday calling on all parties involved to “exercise calm and restraint” and to resolve their issues through peaceful dialogue.
Numbering 30 million, Kurds make up a sizable minority in a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.
Despite nearly a century of Kurdish nationalist movements in various countries, the Kurds have never had a nation of their own.

Iraqi City (Kirkuk) Set to Implode if the Kurd’s Vote for Independence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

Kirkuk's provincial governor Najim al-Din Karim third from right, who was recently sacked by the Iraqi parliament, attends a rally in support of the upcoming independence referendum in Kirkuk on Sept. 19, 2017
Kirkuk’s provincial governor Najim al-Din Karim third from right, who was recently sacked by the Iraqi parliament, attends a rally in support of the upcoming independence referendum in Kirkuk on Sept. 19, 2017 Marwan Ibrahim—AFP/Getty Images

The Iraqi City Set to Implode if the Kurd’s Vote for Independence

For decades, even a census has been considered too risky in the hotly contested northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, claimed by Kurds, Arabs and the Turkmen ethnic group. But on Monday, the city’s residents will join people across northern Iraq in a vote on Kurdish independence.

Kirkuk is the most significant of Iraq’s disputed territories under de facto Kurdish control that will vote in the controversial referendum Sept. 25. After a century of Kurds pushing for independence, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurds’ semi-autonomous region has promised his people the chance to vote on their future. The governments in Baghdad and in Washington have urged the Kurdish leadership to postpone or cancel the vote, seeing it as a divisive distraction from the fight against ISIS.

But for some non-Kurdish residents of Kirkuk and other disputed areas, the referendum is seen as a provocation and an attempt by Kurds to assert power in contested territory. Experts fear the vote could lead to unrest and even violence.

“This is a very dangerous move,” says Kamal Chomani, a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “If the referendum is held there will be violence between the ethnic groups of Kirkuk.”

The contention here is not just about Kurdish self-rule, it is about what happens to the tens of thousands of Arab and Turkmen residents of Kirkuk under Kurdish rule. Arab residents already seemed hesitant to discuss the referendum this week, many refusing to say if they will even vote, but Turkmen leaders have been more outspoken.

“We won’t allow Kirkuk to be part of Kurdistan,” says Ali Mehdi Sadiq, who is with the Iraqi Turkmen Front and member of the Kirkuk Provincial council. Sitting in his central Kirkuk office behind tall cement blast walls guarded by armed men, Saddiq says the Turkmen will take up arms to stop the Kurds from annexing the city. Earlier this week, clashes outside another Turkmen party office left at least one person dead. “We will fight to the last Turkman,” Sadiq says.

Posters encouraging people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum are seen in central Kirkuk on Sept. 21, 2017. Posters encouraging people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum are seen in central Kirkuk on Sept. 21, 2017.  Marwan Ibrahim—AFP/Getty Images

Similarly, the city’s mostly Sunni Arabs worry what will happen if the Kurds declare independence. “There are no guarantees of rights for Arabs if Kirkuk gets attached to Kurdistan. The only thing they mention is the rights of the Kurds and the Turkmen,” Ramla Al-Obaidi, an Arab member of the Kirkuk provincial council. “This will lead to more marginalization and neglect of the Arabs in Kurdistan.”

The Kurdish forces took control of Kirkuk in 2014 without firing a single bullet. As the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) advanced the Iraqi army crumbled and thousands of troops fled their posts in Iraq, including in Kirkuk. The Kurdish region’s military forces — known as the Peshmerga — walked in, taking control of the long-contested city and millions of dollars of arms.

Many Kurds cite the Iraqi forces’ desertion as a reason why the Peshmerga fighters can’t give back the city. The Iraqi army, they say, is unable or unwilling to protect them or Kirkuk.

Kurdish flags now fly over the checkpoints at the entrance to the city and a 20-meter statue of a Peshmerga fighter, made from cement and iron, guards the main road from Erbil. The Kurds says it a sign of appreciation for the Kurdish fighters protecting the people of the area from ISIS, but it feels like a reminder of who is in charge here.

“The Peshmerga will definitely not leave Kirkuk even if they sacrifice their lives for the city,” says Hawer Ali, who was serving in the Iraqi army in 2014 and has now joined the Peshmerga. Some fear the mostly-Shia militia of the Popular Mobilization Units, having grown in power and influence during the fight against ISIS, could enter Kirkuk in support of the government, and clash with the Peshmerga.

Ali, like many Kurds, has historic reasons for wanting an independent state. The regime of Saddam Hussein began pushing Kurds out of Kirkuk in the mid-1970s as part of a campaign of Arabization across mixed areas of northern Iraq. Tens of thousands of Kurds were evicted and Arabs from other parts of the country were brought to settle here, changing the demographics in a bid to cement Arab control of the oil-rich city. Ali was just one year old when his family was pushed from Kirkuk.

During the U.S. invasion of 2003, the Kurdish Peshmerga fought alongside American troops and took control of Kirkuk. Ali’s family returned to the city that same year. “All the Kurds came back,” says Ali. The Kurds soon gave control back to the national government but in the almost 15 years since, hundreds of thousands of Kurds have returned to Kirkuk, many lured by free land and homes courtesy of Kurdish political parties.

Ali acknowledges the referendum is increasing tensions in his city, but he says it’s necessary for what is to come. “I don’t think there is any country that declared independence without paying for it,” says Ali. “And we are ready to pay for it. We are ready to sacrifice.”