Iraqi forces and Shiite militias are currently fighting with Kurdish troops south of Kirkuk. According to Kurdish media, Masoud Barzani, Kurdish President, and commander-in-chief has given Peshmerga forces a “green light to use every power” to defend themselves but ordered them not to initiate war with Iraqi forces.
This clash appears to be the inevitable boiling over of tensions between the two governments following Kurdistan’s recent independence referendum. Liberty Nation reported on the vote and the international complications that would follow. Those hens have come home to roost, and it appears Iraqi forces have thrown the first punch.
The Kirkuk Deadline
Both the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurdistan lay claim to the Kirkuk province. The region, which is rich in oil, was a major sticking point for Baghdad during the initial discussion of a Kurdish Independence Referendum. Iraq’s central government issued an ultimatum and deadline for Kurdish forces to leave Kirkuk. That deadline has since passed, and the “or else” has arrived.
Iraqi troops seek to control the K-1 military base, airport, and oil fields south and west of Kirkuk, according to the Kurdistan Security Council. Kirkuk’s Governor, Najmaldin Karim, has stated that the Peshmerga are prepared to defend the province. He also issued a call for the local populace to protect the city. Many have done so, joining the nearly 9,000 Kurdish troops.
Iraqi troops are joined by the Hashd al-Shaabi, an Iranian backed Shiite militia. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, arrived in Kurdistan over the weekend to “hold talks about the crisis.” Saad Hadithi, an Iraqi government spokesperson, told Rudaw TV that Soleimani was a military advisor to Hashd al-Shaabi. Given that the Quds Force provides training, weaponry, and financial support to terrorist organizations, Soleimani’s purpose in Iraq is clear: further the destabilization of Sunni power bases by attacking the one of the most stable regions in Iraq, Kurdistan.
Reports from the region suggest that the Hasd al-Shaabi aren’t the only Iranian troops engaged with Kurdish forces. The commander of the Peshmerga second brigade in Kirkuk gave his input:
“The Iraqi army and the Hashd al-Shaabi are not the only state that are attacking us. We have intelligence with 100 percent accuracy that there are also the Iranian army and the Revolutionary Guards among them.”
Iran closed their border with Iraqi Kurdistan in conjunction with Baghdad’s efforts to isolate the would-be Kurdish state. If these reports are accurate, their involvement is more nefarious.
Sitting This One Out
Unsurprisingly, the United States has, currently, continued its habit of supporting the Kurds except where it counts. The Pentagon has called for forces on both sides to de-escalate, but the crowd favorite was clear. Laura Seal, a Pentagon spokesperson, put it plainly. “We continue to support a unified Iraq,” she said. “Despite the Kurdistan Regional Government’s unfortunate decision to pursue a unilateral referendum, dialogue remains the best option to defuse ongoing tensions and longstanding issues, in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.”
The Kurdish people have been a friend to the United States in numerous conflicts for decades. We currently arm them, train them, and rely on the spilling of Kurdish blood in our fight against ISIS. After leaving Iraq too soon (thanks, Obama) and watching ISIS and other extremists fill the power vacuum, it was the Kurds who won the day time and time again. They won back their homes, not the Iraqi government.
Lovers of liberty everywhere should be appalled by our abject silence to Kurdistan’s cries for independence. We called them a friend when we needed help and turned our backs when they asked the favor to be returned.
On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered his Inaugural Address and told the world that we, the United States of America, would aid in the cause of liberty wherever it would be found:
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge—and more.”
It would appear that those days are behind us.