Iraq: Large-Scale Operation Against ISIS Remnants In Kirkuk

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

 

Large-Scale Operation against ISIS Remnants in Iraq’s Kirkuk

Thursday, 2 May, 2019 – 10:00
A military vehicle of the Iraqi security forces is pictured near the University of Anbar, in Anbar province July 28, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer
Baghdad – Fadhel al-Nashmi
A commander in Iraq’s Joint Operations Command has confirmed that Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition warplanes have launched a military operation against ISIS remnants in Kirkuk province.

The commander, who refused to be identified, spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat a day after the US Central Command announced that two US Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft conducted an air strike at Wadi Ashai, Iraq, in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve on April 30.

He said that Wadi Ashai has a rugged terrain that ISIS militants can turn into hideouts.

The US Central Command said on Tuesday that the April 30 strike marked the F-35A’s first combat employment.

The F-35As conducted the airstrike using a Joint Direct Attack Munition to strike an entrenched ISIS tunnel network and weapons cache deep in the Hamrin Mountains, a location able to threaten friendly forces, said the statement.

“The F-35As, recently deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, joined the Combined Forces Air Component team in the US Central Command area of operations on April 15,” it added.

A member of Kirkuk’s council told Asharq Al-Awsat that the operation against ISIS remnants is considered the largest since Iraq announced the organization’s defeat late 2017.

“At least 35 terrorists have been killed and more than 8 ISIS hideouts have been destroyed,” the source said.

“The operation was launched after Iraqi authorities received information that extremists have infiltrated into uninhabited areas in Hamrin Mountains and Wadi Ashai after escaping the battles in Syria,” the source added.

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.”

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.”

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.”

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

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

Middle East

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

Sadr

Headed by Ahmed al-Sadr, son of the movement’s leader Moqtada, the delegation was welcomed in Irbil by President Masoud al-Barzani.

The president’s media officer Kifah Mahmoud told Asharq Al-Awsat that the two sides discussed the political situation in Iraq and the ongoing war against ISIS in the city of Mosul.

They also tackled the post-ISIS phase, especially in Iraq, he revealed.

The Sadr delegation said that they are making preparations for the upcoming elections, he said.

Meanwhile, Kirkuk governor Najm Eddine Karim announced that Baghdad is not offering any aid to the city.

He told reporters during a celebration in honor of Kurdish journalism: “There are over half a million refugees in Kirkuk, including 30,000 families that have fled al-Huweija district.”

“This is posing a major burden on the city and the residents are sharing medicine, water, electricity and other services with these refugees. Their patience will not last long,” he warned.

He therefore demanded that Baghdad work on allowing the displaced to return to the liberated areas “as soon as possible.”

“The delay in liberating al-Huweija does not serve Kirkuk or Iraq,” Karim said.

He said that Baghdad’s aid to refugees in Kirkuk is so slim that it is bordering on nonexistent, urging the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to seriously address Kirkuk’s demands.

“Everyone in Baghdad and anywhere else should know that the residents of Kirkuk will not accept this attitude,” he warned.

ISIS Satanic Ideology Of Mass Murder Shows It’s Ugly Face In Mosul Iraq

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

ISIS kills hundreds in Mosul area, source says

(CNN) ISIS rounded up and killed 284 men and boys as Iraqi-led coalition forces closed in on Mosul, the terror group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, an Iraqi intelligence source told CNN.

Those killed Thursday and Friday were used as human shields against attacks forcing ISIS out of southern parts of Mosul, the source said.
ISIS dumped the corpses in a mass grave at the defunct College of Agriculture in northern Mosul, the intelligence source said.
The victims — including children — were all shot, said the source, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. CNN could not independently confirm the killings.

Latest developments

• US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, visiting Iraq, said he was encouraged by Iraqi efforts to retake Mosul.
• Kurdish officials accused Sunni Arabs in Kirkuk of supporting ISIS a day after attacks killed dozens.
• Iraqis displaced by the Mosul offensive are seeking shelter in camps, the UN refugee agency said.

Iraqi forces move on Hamdaniya

The Iraqi military launched a large offensive early Saturday to retake Hamdaniya — also known as Qaraqosh — from ISIS, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command center said.

ISIS using drones in battle for Mosul

ISIS using drones in battle for Mosul 02:43
The city is about 15 kilometers (nine miles) southeast of Mosul.
Iraqi troops entered the al-Askary neighborhood and liberated the mayor’s building and the main hospital, raising the Iraqi flag over those buildings, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Maliky said.
At least 50 ISIS militants were killed and some of their equipment destroyed, he added.
Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga — as the Kurdish fighters are known — have made progress and isolated Hamdaniya, a US military official said in Baghdad, speaking on background.

Tal Kayf is next target

Iraqi troops are also advancing toward Tal Kayf and plan on storming the Chaldean town, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said Saturday.

Iraqi army and militia forces arrive Thursday in Saleh village in the offensive to wrest Mosul from ISIS.

Tal Kayf is about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Mosul.
It’s the closest Iraqi security forces have come to Mosul, a CNN analysis indicates.
The US military official said US and coalition aircraft were providing air support as needed Saturday. The official said land forces were working through “a hard outer crust,” and resistance would intensify as the offensive neared Mosul.
The official said ISIS fighters had infiltrated towns cleared earlier, including Bartella, requiring renewed efforts to combat them.
Kurdish security forces were going house to house Saturday in Kirkuk following a major ISIS attack a day earlier. Kirkuk is 175 kilometers (109 miles) southeast of Mosul.
Kirkuk’s police chief said 48 ISIS militants had been killed during hours of clashes.
Security officials told CNN that at least 40 others had been killed and 76 wounded in the attack, the majority of them Kurdish Peshmerga.
The ISIS attacks continued in the area Saturday, with an attempt to infiltrate the town of Laylan, 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Kirkuk. Nine militants were killed, according to the mayor of Laylan, Mohammed Wais, and some security force members were injured.
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani described ISIS’ attack on Kirkuk as “a failed attempt by terrorists to make up for the defeats they have suffered at the hands of the Peshmerga on the front line.”
Previous attacks by ISIS militants on Kirkuk have been attempts either to capture the city from the Peshmerga or divert Kurdish troops from the fight in Mosul.
About 4,000 families are housed in four camps for internally displaced people in Laylan, said Ammar Sabah, director of the Displacement and Migration Department in Kirkuk.

Kurdish officials accuse local Arabs of helping ISIS

In the wake of the Kirkuk attack, Kurdish officials accused local Arabs and some displaced in camps around the city of helping ISIS.

Kirkuk’s police chief, Brig. Gen. Khatab Omar, said the militants had probably infiltrated the 600,000 internally displaced in and around the city.
Gen. Hallo Najat, another police official, told local media to expect further fighting because 30% of the Arabs there supported ISIS rather than the government or Kurdish authorities.
Najmaldin Karim, Kirkuk’s governor, said: “We have prior knowledge that an operation like this could happen; we were preparing for it, but the timing was not known exactly.”
He said a curfew would remain in force for another day and urged the internally displaced community in Kirkuk to help track down militants.

US defense chief briefed on Mosul operation

Carter, the US defense secretary, paid an unannounced visit Saturday to Baghdad, where he was briefed on the Mosul offensive and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

U.S. Sailor killed by roadside bomb in Iraq identified

U.S. Sailor killed by roadside bomb in Iraq identified 03:02
Carter then addressed about 50 US service members at Baghdad International Airport, recalling the US naval officer killed this week in northern Iraq and the risk taken by all those serving.
The defense chief told the crowd he was encouraged by what he has seen so far in the fight to retake Mosul.
US forces in Iraq are providing air support for the Mosul operation as part of an international coalition. US special operations forces are also advising Iraqi and Kurdish units on the ground.
After meeting with Carter, Abadi repeated his view that Iraq does not need Turkey’s help in the battle for Mosul, while acknowledging the importance of maintaining good relations with its northern neighbor. The Turkish leadership has expressed a desire to join the coalition to oust ISIS.

UN ‘gravely worried’ over human shield use

The United Nations expressed concern Friday that ISIS has taken 550 families from villages around Mosul to use as human shields.

Pain still raw for Mosul's Christians in Jordan

Pain still raw for Mosul’s Christians in Jordan 02:52
Two hundred families from Samalia village and 350 families from Najafia were forced out Monday and taken to Mosul in “an apparent policy by ISIS to prevent civilians escaping,” Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, told CNN.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “We are gravely worried by reports that (ISIS) is using civilians in and around Mosul as human shields as the Iraqi forces advance, keeping civilians close to their offices or places where fighters are located, which may result in civilian casualties.”

Iraqis flee violence

The first influx of Iraqis — 144 people — arrived at a new camp, Zelikan, set up to shelter what is expected to become a flood of families displaced by the Mosul offensive, the UN refugee agency said Saturday.
UN data indicate some 3,900 people — or 650 families — have so far been forced from Mosul and Hamdaniya districts, agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing Friday in Geneva, Switzerland.
The UN refugee agency is working to establish 11 camps, five of which are already in place, to house those forced from their homes by the battle. The camps will have capacity for about 120,000 people, the agency said.
Up to 600,000 could be helped if the refugee agency obtained sufficient funding, it said. Mosul is believed currently to have a population of about 1.5 million people, it added.

Concerns over mass displacements in Iraq

Concerns over mass displacements in Iraq 04:15
Charity Oxfam warned Saturday that more must be done to provide safe routes for those fleeing the conflict.
People who escaped from Hawd, 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) south of Mosul, told Oxfam that many civilians had been injured.
A woman told Oxfam her children had respiratory issues after breathing in thick smoke from oil wells that ISIS militants set afire to provide cover from coalition air attacks.