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.”

Kurdish MPs say yes to independence referendum

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Kurdish MPs say yes to independence referendum

Iraqi Kurds in Irbil (13/09/17)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe vote has left Iraq’s neighbours nervous

The Iraqi Kurdish parliament has voted to back an independence referendum in the face of opposition from across the globe.

The Kurdistan Regional Government, sitting for the first time in two years, backed the 25 September vote on Friday.

Iraq’s central government rejected the referendum as unconstitutional on Tuesday.

Iran, Turkey and the US also object to the vote, fearing further instability.

The White House issued a statement hours after the vote, asking the Kurdistan Regional Government to call off the referendum and “enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad”.

The statement warned the independence vote could “distract from efforts to defeat” the Islamic State militant group (IS).

There was a feeling of jubilation amongst those who back the referendum.

“We’ve been waiting more than 100 years for this,” Omed Khoshnaw, of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDR), told Reuters news agency.

Of the 111 MPs who sit in the regional parliament, 65 voted to go ahead with the plan.

Map showing control of Syria and Iraq on 4 September 2017

However, more than 40 did not attend the sitting, according to local media. A number of opposition MPs had said they were planning to abstain.

Iraq’s government has also authorised the prime minister to “take all measures” to preserve national unity.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Iran and Turkey – which both have Kurdish populations – fear a Yes vote will bolster separatism movements in their countries.

The US had suggested unspecified “alternatives” to the referendum ahead of Friday’s meeting.


A move provoking division

Sally Nabil, BBC News, Irbil

The parliamentary decision to hold the referendum on independence has been met with wide celebrations in the Kurdish capital of Irbil. People took to the streets raising the Kurdish flags and chanting patriotic songs.

Some of them told me they feel proud because their long overdue dream of independence is finally coming true. They believe the parliamentary move legitimises the referendum, which is seen by the central government in Baghdad as unconstitutional.

International, as well as regional, powers like Turkey and Iran have also been very critical of the upcoming voting process, warning of serious repercussions. Both countries have relatively large Kurdish communities and they are afraid of the domino effect that such a referendum could have.

Even among Iraqi Kurds there are divisions. The Change Movement, the main opposition party, has boycotted the parliament session, saying it believes in independence but rejects holding the referendum at this stage.


Kurdish leader Massud Barzani said he would give a rapid response to the ideas but appeared to have dismissed them when asked earlier on Friday, before the vote went ahead.

“We still haven’t heard a proposal that can be an alternative to the Kurdistan referendum,” he said.

Mr Barzani’s statement was decried by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the decision not to postpone was “very wrong”, Reuters reports.

Media captionMassoud Barzani spoke to the BBC

Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. In Iraq, where they make up an estimated 15% to 20% of the population of 37 million, Kurds faced decades of brutal repression before acquiring autonomy following the 1991 Gulf War.

For the past three years, Kurds across the region have been engaged in the battle against IS.

Three months ago, top officials and political parties in the Kurdistan Regional Government agreed to hold an advisory referendum on independence.

Voting will take place in the three provinces that officially make up the region – Dahuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniya – and “areas of Kurdistan outside the region’s administration”, including Kirkuk, Makhmour, Khanaqin and Sinjar.

Kurdish officials have said that an expected Yes vote will not trigger an automatic declaration of independence but rather strengthen their hand in lengthy negotiations on separation with the central government.

Related Topics

Iraqi Parliament Rejects Kurdish Independence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Middle East

Iraqi Parliament Rejects Kurdish Independence Referendum

Iraq

The Iraqi parliament voted on Tuesday to reject the referendum over the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region scheduled for September 25.

A number of Kurdish lawmakers withdrew from the parliament session in wake of the announcement.

“Kurdish lawmakers walked out of the session but the decision to reject the referendum was passed by a majority,” Mohammed al-Karbouli said.

Kurdish lawmaker Majid Shingali said Kurds would reject the decision.

“This decision has no value and we will not implement it,” he told Reuters.

Speaker Salim al-Jabouri stated that the Iraqi MPs’ vote on rejecting the referendum “shows the parliament’s keenness on the unity of Iraq’s land and people.”

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi is now bound to take the necessary measures that would preserve Iraqi unity and kick off serious dialogue to resolve pending issues between Baghdad and the Kurdish region, he added in a statement.

He explained that the constitution stipulates the cases that a referendum can be held for and the Kurdistan vote is not one of them.

The Kurdish government’s decision to call for a referendum angered the Iraqi government that deemed the vote unconstitutional.

The US and several European countries also expressed their opposition to the referendum, raising fears that Kurdish populations in nearby countries would also demand a similar vote.

Irbil stressed however that it has no other choice but the vote to guarantee the rights of the Kurdish people.

The Kurds themselves are divided over the referendum despite the unanimity over independence. Some believe that the timing of the vote, set by President Masoud Barzani, is not appropriate given the economic crises in the autonomous region. Others believe that the referendum decision should be made by the parliament, which has been suspended for over two years.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Iraq Has Consistently Failed To Maintain Partnership Agreements With The Kurdish People

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Barzani: Iraq Failed to Maintain Partnership with Kurds

Iraq

Erbil– The head of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Masoud Barzani, reiterated his adherence to hold an independence referendum on September 25, noting that Iraq “has failed to maintain a true partnership with the Kurdish people.”

During a meeting on Wednesday with Kurdish Muslim clerics in Erbil, Barzani said: “The Kurds have long tried to establish a federal state in Iraq,” adding that since 2003, the Iraqi government has violated around 55 articles of the Constitution, which was adopted by the people.

He also stressed that Kurdistan would never represent part of Iraq, “if Baghdad continues to violate the Constitution,” revealing that in 2004, the proportion of Kurds in the Army was 40 percent, while “today it is zero”.

“The independence referendum is not the property of one person or one party, but belongs to the people of Kurdistan and all the Kurdish parties,” Barzani said, adding that “the Kurdish people have been subjected to genocide since the establishment of the Iraqi state in the 1920s.”

Meanwhile, Barzani’s media advisor, Kifah Mahmoud, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the Kurdish leader has stressed that the decision to hold the referendum was not biased or personal, in reference to those who claim that the decision was solely made by the president and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Mahmoud pointed out that Barzani “realizes the important role of religious scholars in support of the independence referendum, which is equal to the role of media, teachers in schools, and politicians.”

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

More Posts – Twitter – Facebook – Google Plus – YouTube

Why a Referendum Won’t Solve Iraqi Kurdistan’s Problems

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Opinion

Why a Referendum Won’t Solve Iraqi Kurdistan’s Problems

There’s a lingering impression in Washington that Iraqi Kurdistan is what it was five years ago, before the rise of ISIS: a peaceful, prospering, emerging pro-Western democracy whose aspirations for full independence from Iraq are increasingly hard to ignore.

Unfortunately, a great deal has changed since then, thanks to war, the US retreat from the region and the Kurds’ own dysfunctions. As the ISIS slowly crumbles to its south and west, Kurdistan is politically and economically broken. President Masoud Barzani remains in office four years after his term ended, and parliament has not met in almost two years. The government is deeply in debt and can scarcely afford to pay the three-quarters of the workforce who are state employees. The army and security services are divided into rival factions.

Barzani’s reaction to this distress has been to schedule a referendum on Kurdish independence for Sept. 25. The initiative has been rejected not just by the Iraqi federal government, but also by Kurdistan’s powerful neighbors Iran and Turkey, as well as the United States. More significantly, it is being viewed even by staunchly pro-independence Kurds as evidence that the region’s politics have reached a dangerous dead end.

The referendum is “an excuse by Kurdish leaders to remain in power,” says Shaswar Abdulwahid Qadir, the owner of Kurdistan’s independent NRT television network. “The younger generation doesn’t know anything about their fight in the mountains against Saddam Hussein. So the old leaders need another excuse to run the country for another 26 years.”

Those bitter words reflect Qadir’s perspective as one of a rising generation of Kurds — and Iraqis — struggling over how to create stable political institutions and a working economy amid the mess of sectarian conflicts, extremist movements and corrupt establishments littered across the post-ISIS landscape.

An independent television network is, at least, a place to start. While most Iraqi media are controlled by the government or political parties, Qadir is one of Kurdistan’s few self-made magnates: Born in the city of Sulaymaniyah, he started peddling electronic games as a teenager and became one of Kurdistan’s largest real estate developers before founding NRT in 2011, at the age of 32.

Launched under the slogan “courage, balance, truth,” the network saw its first office attacked and burned within a week of opening; Qadir blames militants from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the region’s two historical political forces. Two years later he survived an assassination attempt. Kurdish authorities have closed NRT’s offices and arrested its journalists on multiple occasions. Yet it has persisted and flourished: It now has two Kurdish channels, an Arabic channel covering all of Iraq, and an English-language website.

A referendum, Qadir says, might prompt Turkey to shut down that pipeline, through which Kurdistan exports the relative trickle of petroleum that is its only reliable revenue. It also might cause the Turks and Iran to back opposing factions of the army, which is divided between the PUK and Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, triggering a resumption of the civil war they fought in the 1990s.

“What kind of Kurdistan would we have?” Qadir asked. “Would we have South Korea or South Sudan?”


The Washington Post