Posts Tagged ‘Iraqi forces’

IS not dead yet but ‘caliphate’ dream probably dead for now — “Most veterans of IS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq are now regrouping in Syria”

November 18, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir and Sarah Benhaida | Members of the Iraqi forces cheer as they carry an upside-down flag of the Islamic State (IS) group in Mosul on July 2, 2017

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Its “caliphate” has imploded, its de facto capitals in Iraq and Syria have fallen, and hundreds of its fighters have either surrendered or fled.The Islamic State jihadist group may not be dead yet but its dream of statehood has already been buried, analysts say.

No one in IS “will now think of imposing ‘the territory of the caliphate’,” said Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi specialist on extremist movements.

In 2014, self-proclaimed IS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ruled over seven million people in a territory as large as Italy encompassing large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.

This new “territory of Islam” — Dar al-Islam in Arabic — attracted thousands of jihadists from around the world, many accompanied by their wives and children.

The city of Raqa became the de facto Syrian capital, while Baghdadi made his only public appearance in a mosque in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and once a major Middle East trading hub.

In all of the cities the jihadist group controlled, the black banner of IS flew above the buildings of a new administration.

Courts, hospitals and other official bodies even issued birth or marriage certificates or verdicts and other decrees on IS letterhead.

But less than four years after its sweeping offensive stunned the world, IS has lost almost all of the territory it controlled along with the precious income from oilfields that funded its activities.

“In the course of recent battles, especially Mosul, a huge number of jihadis have died,” said Kirk Sowell, publisher of Inside Iraqi Politics.

“Subsequent to that defeat, many others have surrendered or simply fled the country or are trying to melt into the population.”

According to the US-led coalition fighting IS, the jihadists have lost 95 percent of the cross-border caliphate they declared in 2014.

– Ever-tightening noose –

Hashemi said that after suffering such heavy losses, “even what might remain of IS would not think of returning” to the idea of ??military and administrative control of territory.

And the routed group has been confined in Iraq to “four percent of the territory: wadis, oases and desert areas” without any population, along the porous border with Syria where it has also been cornered into an ever-tightening noose.

In addition to the Syrian and Iraqi armies, the remaining jihadists face myriad forces backed by Russia, the United States or Iran, often at odds with each other over their differing regional interests.

“The caliphate project ran up against geopolitical realities,” according to Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.

As a result, “the international jihadi galaxy is likely to revert to its previous strategy of de-territorialisation and revert to strikes against the ‘distant enemy’ in the West or Russia to show it must still be reckoned with,” he added.

There is already a figurehead waiting in the wings.

IS was born of the ashes of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Al-Qaeda before it, and Hashemi said that despite the “caliphate” going down in flames, a new organisation is beginning to emerge.

“Most veterans of IS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq are now regrouping in Syria” where jihadist groups still occupy many areas, he said.

These fighters — “the most indoctrinated and most disciplined” — have since September been forming the “Ansar al-Furqan group, led by Hamza bin Laden”, the son and would-be heir of Osama bin Laden.

The younger bin Laden has become active as an Al-Qaeda propagandist since his father’s death at the hands of US special forces in 2011 in Pakistan.

In January, the United States added Hamza bin Laden to its terrorist blacklist.

His father may be dead, but the bin Laden name continues to attract recruits, Hashemi said.

by Ali Choukeir and Sarah Benhaida
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Iraqi forces ‘launch offensive against Kurds’

October 26, 2017

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-26

Kurdish authorities Thursday accused Iraqi forces of launching an offensive against their fighters near the border with Turkey.

“As of 0600hrs Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed PMF are shelling Peshmerga positions from Zummar front, northwest Mosul, using heavy artillery. They are advancing towards Peshmerga positions,” the top defence body of the autonomous region’s government said in a statement.

(AFP)

More to follow…

John McCain: I Choose The Kurds

October 25, 2017

By John McCain
The New York Times
October 25, 2017

WASHINGTON — Clashes this month between elements of the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish fighters around Kirkuk are deeply troubling, in particular because of the United States’ longstanding friendship with the Kurdish people. These clashes are also emblematic of a broader, more troubling reality: Beyond our tactical successes in the fight against the Islamic State, the United States is still dangerously lacking a comprehensive strategy toward the rest of the Middle East in all of its complexity.

This is the unfortunate legacy that the Obama administration left for its successor. President Trump’s call this month for a broader strategy to confront Iran’s malign influence across the Middle East was an encouraging indication that the administration recognizes the problem.

But just days after that speech, reports surfaced that Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, was near Kirkuk, preparing military advances on Kurdish positions by Iranian-backed Iraqi militias to augment the broader efforts of Iraqi security forces. When those advances came, some Iraqi forces, according to reports, fought with equipment that had been provided by the United States.

This is totally unacceptable. The United States offered arms and training to the government of Iraq to fight the Islamic State and secure Iraq from external threats — not to attack Iraqi Kurds, who are some of America’s most trusted and capable partners in the region.

For decades, the United States’ alliance with the Kurds has protected them from attacks, both from within and outside Iraq, while furthering American national security interests. In the past few years, the Kurds have become even closer allies, fighting alongside the United States against the Islamic State.

Let me be clear: If Baghdad cannot guarantee the Kurdish people in Iraq the security, freedom and opportunities they desire, and if the United States is forced to choose between Iranian-backed militias and our longstanding Kurdish partners, I choose the Kurds.

The clashes in Kirkuk are symptomatic of a deeper problem that the United States has failed to address for many years: Both within countries and between them, the regional order in the Middle East is rapidly collapsing. American power and influence is diminishing there, largely because over the past eight years the United States has withdrawn from the region. The resulting vacuum is being filled by anti-American forces.

While the current administration, like its predecessor, remains singularly focused on defeating the Islamic State — which is, of course, essential — our adversaries are taking advantage of us everywhere else.

In Iraq, the United States seems to still be basking in the feeling of victory after the liberation of Mosul this summer. Meanwhile, Iranian forces are working to sow discord inside Iraq, as we saw in Kirkuk; maneuver Iraqi politics against the United States; and turn next year’s election into a strategic setback that drives American influence out of the country.

Across the border in Syria, the Assad regime, backed by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and an array of militias, has retaken most of the country, including many eastern areas that the United States has identified as strategically important. The future of Syria is being determined by force on the ground with little American initiative.

A web of Iranian proxies and allies is spreading from the Levant to the Arabian Peninsula, threatening stability, freedom of navigation and the territory of our partners and allies, including with advanced conventional weapons. Iran itself continues to test ballistic missiles, menace its neighbors and use its sanctions relief windfall to harmful ends.

Our Arab allies are absorbed in a diplomatic dispute with Qatar in the face of far more pressing threats. And behind all this is the shadow of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which is re-establishing itself as a regional power broker actively hostile to American interests — and wholly unconcerned about human rights or civilian life.

This is a complicated and confusing set of problems, to be sure. But Americans need to understand the greater challenge: The Middle East is vitally important to the future of international security and the global economy, both of which benefit the American people. And right now, a network of anti-American groups — at times working together, at times on their own — is trying to drive American influence out of the Middle East and to remake the region in ways that are contrary to our interests and values. They are doing so by supporting terrorists and militias, subverting and intimidating our friends, displacing us diplomatically, and deploying and distributing military technology that makes it harder and more dangerous for the United States to maintain its presence.

If we keep sleepwalking on our current trajectory, we could wake up in the near future and find that American influence has been pushed out of one of the most important parts of the world. That is why Americans need to care about what is going on in the Middle East right now. That is why we need to stick with our true friends, like the Kurds. And that is why, now more than ever, we need a strategy that lifts our sights above the tactical level and separates the urgent from the truly important.

Iranian commander issued stark warning to Iraqi Kurds over Kirkuk — Told decision-makers not to commit a fatal mistake

October 21, 2017

Reuters

Image may contain: 2 people, hat and closeup

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani (L) stands at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province March 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo Reuters

By Michael Georgy and Ahmed Rasheed

SULAIMANIA/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A senior Iranian military commander repeatedly warned Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq to withdraw from the oil city of Kirkuk or face an onslaught by Iraqi forces and allied Iranian-backed fighters, Kurdish officials briefed on the meetings said.

Major-General Qassem Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, traveled to Iraq’s Kurdistan region to meet Kurdish leaders at least three times this month before the Baghdad government’s lightning campaign to recapture territory across the north.

The presence of Soleimani on the frontlines highlights Tehran’s heavy sway over policy in Iraq, and comes as Shi’ite Iran seeks to win a proxy war in the Middle East with its regional rival and U.S. ally, Sunni Saudi Arabia.

Soleimani met leaders from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish political parties in northern Iraq, in the city of Sulaimania the day before Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered his forces to advance on Kirkuk, according to a PUK lawmaker briefed on the meeting.

His message was clear: withdraw or risk losing Tehran as a strategic ally.

“Abadi has all the regional powers and the West behind him and nothing will stop him from forcing you to return back to the mountains if he decides so,” the lawmaker quoted Soleimani as telling the PUK leadership.

The Iranian general evoked late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s massive attack on a Kurdish rebellion in 1991, when almost the entire Kurdish population fled northern Iraq to the mountains, the PUK lawmaker said.

“Soleimani’s visit … was to give a last-minute chance for the decision-makers not to commit a fatal mistake,” said the lawmaker, who like others interviewed in this story declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Commanders of the Iraqi Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, have accused Iran of orchestrating the Shi’ite-led Iraqi central government’s push into areas under their control, a charge senior Iranian officials have denied.

But Iran has made no secret of its presence in Iraq.

“Tehran’s military help is not a secret anymore. You can find General Soleimani’s pictures in Iraq everywhere,” said an official close to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“Now, beside political issues, Kirkuk’s oil is a very key element for Iran, which is an OPEC member. Control of those oil fields by Iran’s enemies would be disastrous for us. Why should we let them enter the oil market?.”

“THERE WILL BE CONFLICT”

Kirkuk fell to Iraqi government forces on Monday. Their offensive followed a referendum last month in which the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region voted to secede from Iraq against Baghdad’s wishes.

Kurds have sought an independent state for almost a century, after colonial powers divided up the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and left Kurdish-populated territory split between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

But Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties have been at odds over both the referendum and the approach to the crisis in Kirkuk, which the Kurds consider to be the heart of their homeland.

The PUK, a close ally of Iran, accused its rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), of putting the Kurds at risk of military intervention and isolation by pushing hard for the vote, which won wide approval for independence.

Soleimani has been allied to the PUK for years, but the referendum has drawn him even closer to Kurdish politics and expanded Iran’s reach in Iraq beyond the Baghdad government.

The Iranian general is no stranger to conflicts in Iraq, which fought an eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. He has often been seen in footage from the frontlines, and Iran has long helped Baghdad to carry out its military strategy through paramilitary Shi’ite militias which it funds and arms.

Before the referendum, Soleimani suggested to Kurdish leaders that holding a vote on secession — which Iran feared would encourage its own Kurdish population to agitate for greater autonomy — would be risky.

“The Iranians were very clear. They have been very clear that there will be conflict, that these territories will be lost,” said one prominent Iraqi Kurdish politician who met Soleimani ahead of the Sept. 25 referendum.

On Oct. 6, barely a week after the vote, Soleimani attended the funeral of PUK leader Jalal Talabani. Again, he wanted to make sure even his closest Kurdish allies understood the dangers of not withdrawing from Kirkuk, officials said.

A senior Iranian diplomat in Iraq and an official in Iran close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office said Soleimani met with Kurdish leaders after Talibani’s funeral and urged them to withdraw from Kirkuk and in exchange Tehran would protect their interests.

Soleimani met with one of Talabani’s sons, Bafel, a few days after his father was buried, one of the PUK officials said.

“Soleimani said Abadi should be taken very seriously. You should understand this,” the official said.

An Iranian source in Iraq said Soleimani was in Kirkuk two nights before the Iraqi government offensive for “a couple of hours to give military guidance.” Iraqi intelligence sources said Tehran sent a clear signal to the PUK.

“We understand from our sources on the ground that neighboring Iran played a decisive role in making the PUK chose the right course with Baghdad,” one Iraqi intelligence official told Reuters.

KURDISH DIVISIONS

Tensions over the referendum and Kirkuk have deepened divisions between the two main political parties in northern Iraq. The KDP accused the PUK of betraying the Kurdish cause by capitulating to Iran and striking a deal to withdraw.

“The Talabani clan were behind the offensive on Kirkuk. They asked Qassem (Soleimani) for help and his troops were there on the ground,” said a source close to Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government and head of the KDP.

“It is becoming clear that Iran is directing the operations to destroy the KDP.”

The PUK strongly denies this. Talabani’s son Bafel accused the KDP of missing a zero-hour chance to avoid losing Kirkuk by failing to reach a deal over a military base which Iraqi government forces had demanded to take back.

“Unfortunately we reacted too slowly. And we find ourselves where we are today,” Bafel told Reuters.

Two other Kurdish political sources gave a similar account.

Iran and Soleimani offered early assistance to northern Iraq’s Kurds in the fight against Islamic State, a rallying point for the Kurdish community. But after the devastating loss of Kirkuk, Iraqi Kurds have been left disillusioned.

“They (both PUK and KDP leaders) just make decisions on their own and play with people’s lives. In the end, we pay the price,” said pensioner Abdullah Ahmed in Sulaimania.  “This is a disaster for everyone. Everyone was united against Daesh (Islamic State). Now they are back just looking out for themselves.”

(Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov in London and Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

Iraqi forces retake the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in escalating dispute with Kurds

October 17, 2017

 


Iraqi forces drive through an oil field as they head towards the city of Kirkuk on October 16, 2017. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)
.
 October 16 at 7:11 PM
Washington Post
 Iraqi forces took control of the contested city of Kirkuk on Monday, as two U.S. allies faced off over territory and oil in the wake of the Kurdish region’s independence vote last month.The Iraqi forces recaptured military bases, an oil field and other infrastructure held by the Kurdish troops, saying their aim was to return to positions around Kirkuk they held before fleeing in the face of an Islamic State push in 2014. But in the end they went further, entering the city itself.

Iraqi officers lowered Kurdistan’s flag and raised Iraq’s flag at the provincial council building in oil-rich Kirkuk, the center of a fierce dispute between the Kurds and Baghdad. Cars packed roads out of the city as some residents rushed to leave. Others who had been unhappy with Kurdish rule took to the streets to celebrate.

The United States, which trained both the Kurdish and Iraqi forces, seemed to be left in a bind as the crisis escalated between two partners in the fight against the Islamic State.

“We’re not taking sides,” President Trump said at a news conference in the Rose Garden, adding that the United States had a “very good relationship” with the central government and with Kurds.

Iraqi forces took control Oct. 16 of the airport and other key sites previously under Kurdish control in the northern city of Kirkuk. A Kurdish independence vote in September spurred clashes. (Reuters)

“We never should have been there,” he said, referring to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, “but we’re not taking sides.”

A Kurdish referendum on independence last month intensified a decades-old dispute between the two sides. The Iraqi government, the United States, Turkey and Iran opposed the vote. For Baghdad, it added urgency to a need to reassert its claims to Kirkuk province, which has around 10 percent of the country’s oil reserves.

A senior administration official in Washington said there was no daylight between Trump’s “not taking sides” comment and the U.S. Embassy, which Monday morning said it supported the “peaceful reassertion” of the Baghdad government’s authority “in all disputed areas,” in line with the constitution.

“The president and the embassy in Baghdad are saying the same thing,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under White House ground rules. “We support joint administration between the central government and the regional government.”

Conflict “will only serve the interests of the enemies of Iraq — including ISIS and the Iranian regime,” the official said.

The skirmish between forces that fought together to oust Islamic State militants from their stronghold of Mosul presented a major distraction for Iraqi forces, which were due to begin an operation in the last pockets the insurgents control near the Syrian border.

Shortly after Trump spoke, the Kurdistan government’s representative in Washington, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, called the U.S. position “bewildering,” and she echoed Irbil’s charges that Iran was already benefiting from the upheaval.

Iraqi boys gather on the road as they welcome Iraqi security forces members, who continue to advance in military vehicles in Kirkuk on Oct. 16, 2017. (Stringer/Reuters)

Two men emblematic of ­Iranian-backed militia influence in Iraq stood alongside counterterrorism officers as the Iraqi flag was raised in Kirkuk. One was Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the country’s powerful Badr Organization. The other, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, has been designated for sanctions by the U.S. Treasury for his links to Kitaeb Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of the Iranian military.

“How can you not take sides?” Rahman said. “This is Iranian-backed militia, using American weapons, to attack an ally of the United States. I’m bewildered by the U.S. government position. Not just President Trump’s statement, but statements from the [Defense Department] and others, trying to downplay what’s been happening in Kirkuk.”

The militias, she said, “have Abram tanks, artillery, they have deployed in their thousands.” She and her government are particularly disappointed, she said, “in light of what the administration has been saying since Thursday,” when Trump announced new sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and described “Iran’s role as a destabilizer in the Middle East.”

Despite U.S. claims of efforts to set up negotiations — and Trump’s comments Monday — Washington’s position before and after the referendum has been that the Kurds must yield to Baghdad, Rahman said. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi “has decided to impose his will by force,” she said. “We will counter this. We will push back. The potential for all-out war is there.”

“I hope we haven’t reached the point of no return,” Rahman said. “If we do, it will be catastrophic for everyone,” including “the United States and others who have invested so much political capital, as well as treasure and blood,” in Iraq.

Although the Kurdish people “do not want to be in that space,” she said, “we are survivors.”

As well as highlighting the deep rifts in Iraq, the confrontation has also exposed splits among the Kurds. Kurdish factions were divided on whether to allow in Iraqi troops or stand their ground, with some Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga, ordered to give up their posts.

The Iraqi government said it “carefully planned and coordinated” the return of federal forces to Kirkuk with local security forces in advance. But it accused other Kurdish forces from outside the province of sending reinforcements to “harass and obstruct” federal forces.

Some elements of Kurdistan’s Patriotic Union party, or PUK, whose forces dominate in the area, agreed to withdraw in coordination with Baghdad. But the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party, or KDP, opposed a deal.

The general command of Kurdistan’s peshmerga slammed PUK officials for a “major historic betrayal of Kurdistan” by handing over positions, and the militia vowed to fight.

The KDP-affiliated Kurdistan Region Security Council said it destroyed five U.S.-supplied Humvees used in the advance by Iraq’s popular mobilization units, an umbrella group containing Iranian-backed militias that fight as part of Iraq’s security forces.

A video shared online showed six bodies of what appeared to be Kurdish peshmerga soldiers lying by a roadside near Iraqi vehicles. One wore the uniform of a lieutenant colonel.

“This is the result of disobedience of Masoud Barzani,” said the Iraqi fighter who was filming, referring to the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan and the KDP.

A curfew was imposed on the city Monday night as Iraqi forces announced they had completed their “first phase.”

Still in the hands of Kurds were swaths of disputed territories in other provinces.

DeYoung reported from Washington. Alex Horton in Washington contributed to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraqi-forces-retake-the-oil-rich-city-of-kirkuk-in-escalating-dispute-with-kurds/2017/10/16/39df8f4a-b294-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.4f6de2870e88

The battle of Kirkuk: why it matters

October 17, 2017

AFP and AP

© Ahmad Al-Rubaye, AFP | Iraqi forces advance towards the centre of Kirkuk during an operation, on October 16, 2017.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-17

Three weeks after Iraqi forces region held a referendum on independence, Iraqi forces entered the disputed city of Kirkuk, forcing Kurdish fighters to withdraw. Here’s what you need to know:

Why?

Kirkuk has found itself at the heart of a long-running dispute between Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region and its central government that reached fever pitch after Kurdish authorities staged a non-binding independence vote in late September.

The city sits on the edge of an expansive oil field that can be tapped for about a half million barrels per day. And while Iraq‘s oil revenues are supposed to be shared, disputes among the provinces have often held up transfers, leading parties to find leverage in holding the fields.

When Iraq’s armed forces crumbled in the face of an advance by Islamic State group in 2014, Kurdish forces moved into Kirkuk and secured the city and its surrounding oil wells. The city falls 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside the Kurds’ autonomous region.

Baghdad insisted the city and its province be returned, but matters came to a head when the Kurdish authorities expanded their referendum to include Kirkuk. To Baghdad, it looked like a provocation that underscored what it sees as unchecked Kurdish expansionism. The city of more than 1 million is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, as well as Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

How did it happen?

Swiftly. Iraq’s army, its anti-terrorism forces and the federal police began their operations before dawn Monday. By late afternoon, they were in control of several oil and gas facilities, the airport, and a military base.

Kurdish officials accused the Iraqi army of carrying out a “major, multi-prong attack,” and reported heavy clashes on the city’s outskirts, but a spokesman for Iraq’s state-backed militias said they encountered little resistance. The vastly outmatched Kurdish fighters withdrew from the city en masse, and journalists were left to wander into abandoned barracks and administrative buildings.

Local police forces remained in the city at the invitation of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi who called on civil servants to stay and serve their constituents. He has said he wants to share administration of the city with the Kurdish authorities and called on Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, to serve under the umbrella of Iraq’s unified military command.

“We have only acted to fulfill our constitutional duty and extend the federal authority and impose security and protect the national wealth in this city,” said Abadi.

Abadi, in a bid to allay concerns of sectarian strife, promised the country’s predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces would not enter Kirkuk, but Associated Press reporters saw Turkmen militiamen taking up posts in the western part of the city. The Iranian-sponsored militias are viewed with deep suspicion by Iraq’s Kurds, who see them as a policy implement of Tehran that threatens demographic change.

Thousands of revelers waving the Iraqi Turkmen and Iraqi national flags were celebrating the transfer of power in downtown Kirkuk by nightfall, but thousands more were fleeing the city with their belongings to the neighboring Kurdish region, fearful of national or militia rule.

Friction between U.S. allies?

The dispute over Kirkuk pits two close U.S. allies in the war against the Islamic State group against each other. The U.S. has armed, trained and provided vital air support to both sides in their shared struggle and called the frictions a distraction against the most important fight.

But for parts of Monday, Iraqi and Kurdish forces turned their weapons against each other. The Kurdistan Region Security Council said early Monday that the peshmerga destroyed at least five U.S.-supplied Humvees being used by Iraq’s state-sanctioned militias.

It’s the timing of the dispute that underscores how fragile Iraq is now. It was only three months ago that the peshmerga, federal forces, and the PMF were maneuvering alongside each other to recapture Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from IS, and two weeks ago that they expelled them from Hawija, their last bastion in northern Iraq. With IS now defeated there, the danger for Iraq will now likely come from its own divisions.

What’s next?

It will take time for Iraq and its Kurdish region to restore amicable relations after the strains of the past three weeks. Baghdad wants the Kurds to disavow the overwhelmingly in-favor referendum result. This has been refused by Irbil, the Kurdish capital.

Talks between the two sides are now likely to focus on easing sanctions against the Kurdish region, including those on the banking sector and against international flights.

There is considerable distrust between Baghdad and Irbil dating back to Saddam Hussein’s wars against the Kurdish region and forced Arabization of some of its cities.

But the two sides also rely on each other, especially in fragile economic times. The Kurdish region is responsible for up to a quarter of Iraq’s oil production, while Baghdad controls the currency and several pipelines in and out of north Iraq. The Kurdish region is presently entitled to 17% of Iraq’s federal budget, of which the Kurds are expected to try to negotiate a bigger share, in addition to greater autonomy.

Inside the Kurdish region, elections are slated to be held next month and the two major parties will be looking to leverage the crisis to win votes. It is no accident, analysts say, that President Masoud Barzani, whose term expired in 2015, slated the referendum two months before elections. He hopes to cast himself as a visionary for the Kurds, they say, even if he can’t deliver on the dream of independence.

(AP)

Iraqi forces retake base, airport, oil field from Kurds

October 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Iraqi forces flash the sign for victory as they advance towards the southern outskirts of Kirkuk on October 16, 2017

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi forces made rapid progress on Monday in their operation against Kurdish fighters in the disputed Kirkuk province, seizing a key military base, an airport and an oil field, commanders said.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC), which groups all pro-government forces, did not specify whether there had been significant clashes in the operation, but the speed of the advance suggested Kurdish fighters were so far withdrawing without resistance.

Iraqi troops and allied forces launched the operation overnight after tensions between Baghdad and the Kurds spiralled into an armed standoff following last month’s referendum on Kurdish independence.

The JOC said its forces had retaken the K1 military base northwest of Kirkuk, the military airport east of the city and the Baba Gargar oil field, one of six in the disputed region.

Iraq’s central government had earlier demanded the Kurds withdraw from military facilities and oil fields they had seized in recent years, mainly during the fightback against the Islamic State group.

The oil fields are particularly contested.

Kurdish forces have been in control of six fields in the Kirkuk region providing some 340,000 of the 550,000 barrels per day exported by the regional administration.

Three of the fields — Khormala, Bay Hassan and Havana — produce some 250,000 barrels per day for export and are directly controlled by the Kurds.

The other three — Baba Gargar, Jambur and Khabbaz — are managed by the publicly owned North Oil Company (NOC) and produce some 90,000 barrels per day for export, with revenues going to the Kurds.

The JOC said that along with Baba Gargar, Iraqi forces had regained control of the local NOC headquarters.

Peshmerga forces loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a political party linked to Iraqi President Fuad Masum, who is himself a Kurd, were reported to be withdrawing from areas under their control after the operation was launched.

Pro-PUK forces were deployed south of the city, including at oil fields, while fighters loyal to the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), linked to Iraqi Kurd leader Massud Barzani who initiated the referendum, were deployed to the north.

Iraq says it has retaken areas near Kirkuk — Iraqi troops have “burnt lots of houses and killed many people”

October 16, 2017

The Latest on Iraq, where federal forces have attacked the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk (all times local):

10 a.m.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry says federal forces have captured a power plant and a police station south of Kirkuk after what Kurdish officials described as a major assault aimed at driving Kurdish forces from the disputed city.

Monday’s brief statement from the Interior Ministry, on “Operation Impose Security on Kirkuk,” provided no details on the fighting or casualties, saying only that federal forces had taken control of industrial areas near the city.

Kurdish officials say federal forces launched a major assault south of the city that caused “lots of casualties,” without providing exact figures. It was not immediately possible to independently confirm their claims.

Tensions around Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city claimed by the Kurdish autonomous region and the central government, have soared since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a referendum condemned as unconstitutional by Baghdad.

Both the federal forces and the Kurdish forces are close U.S. allies that have been armed and trained as part of the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group.

Image result for Iraqi forces, kirkuk, Kurdish, photos

———

9:45 a.m.

The U.S.-led coalition is urging Iraqi and Kurdish forces to “avoid escalatory actions” after federal forces launched an assault south of the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, sparking clashes with the Kurds.

U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman, tweeted that the coalition is “closely monitoring sit. near Kirkuk; urge all sides to avoid escalatory actions. Finish the fight vs. #ISIS, biggest threat to all.”

The U.S.-led coalition has armed and trained federal and Kurdish forces in the battle against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, which is still ongoing despite the retaking of the northern city of Mosul earlier this year.

Iraqi forces launched a major operation south of Kirkuk late Sunday and have captured industrial areas near the city. Kurdish officials say their forces have sustained casualties.

Tensions have been soaring since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a non-binding referendum rejected by the central government as well as the United States.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

9:15 a.m.

An Iraqi Kurdish commander says federal forces have seized an oil and gas company and other industrial areas south of Kirkuk in fighting with Kurdish forces that caused “lots of casualties.”

Brig. Gen. Bahzad Ahmed, a spokesman for Kurdish forces, said Monday the Iraqi troops have “burnt lots of houses and killed many people” in Toz Khormato and Daquq, south of the disputed city. He said Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, have “destroyed one or two of their tanks.”

His claims could not be independently verified.

Kurdish officials say federal forces launched an assault south of Kirkuk late Sunday, aiming to capture a military base and surrounding oil wells.

The multi-ethnic city has been at the heart of a long-running dispute between the Kurds and the federal government that escalated following last month’s non-binding Kurdish vote for independence.

The U.S. has armed and trained Iraqi and Kurdish forces, both of which are at war with the Islamic State group.

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8:30 a.m.

Iraqi Kurdish officials say federal forces and state-backed militias have launched a “major, multi-pronged” attack aimed at retaking the disputed northern city of Kirkuk.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council says in a statement Monday that Kurdish forces known as peshmerga have destroyed at least five U.S.-supplied Humvees being used by the state-sanctioned militias following the “unprovoked attack” south of the city.

Tensions have soared since the Kurds held a non-binding referendum last month in which they voted for independence from Iraq. The central government, along with neighboring Turkey and Iran, rejected the vote.

The United States has supplied and trained Iraqi federal forces and the peshmerga, both of which are fighting the Islamic State group. The U.S. also opposed the referendum.

Iraqi and Kurdish Forces Face Off Near Kirkuk

October 16, 2017

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BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi forces said Monday they had taken control of roads and infrastructure from Kurdish fighters near the disputed city of Kirkuk as tensions soar following a controversial independence referendum.

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Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, which groups all pro-government forces, said it was making progress in its operation to “restore security” in Kirkuk.

Iraqi forces are aiming to retake military bases and oil fields which Kurdish peshmerga fighters took during the fightback against the Islamic State jihadist group (IS).

Central government forces took control of two bridges, two roads and an industrial zone to the southwest of Kirkuk as well as gas facilities, a power station, a refinery and a police station, the JOC said.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces exchanged artillery fire early Monday south of the city, after government forces began a “major operation” in the oil-rich province.

The offensive follows a standoff between Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army prompted by the September 25 non-binding referendum that produced a resounding “yes” for independence for the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Baghdad has declared the referendum — held despite international opposition — illegal.

Both sides are key US allies in the battle against the jihadists, and the crisis has raised fears of fresh chaos just as Iraqi forces are on the verge of routing IS from the last territory it controls in the country.

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Iraq forces oust IS from northern town in drive on Hawija

September 22, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Iraqi troops flash victory signs as they advance on the town of Sharqat on September 21, 2017
SHARQAT (IRAQ) (AFP) – Iraqi forces achieved the first goal of a new offensive against the Islamic State group on just its second day Friday, penetrating the northern town of Sharqat, AFP correspondents said.

Some residents celebrated in the streets as government troops and paramilitaries entered the town centre and tore down the black flags of the jihadists who had ruled it with an iron fist for more than three years.

AFP correspondents saw little major damage in the town, although there had been casualties in the fighting as they saw the bodies of two jihadists in the back of a pickup.

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Sharqat was the first goal of a major offensive launched on Thursday to recapture an IS-held enclave centred on the insurgent bastion of Hawija, one of just two pockets still controlled by the jihadists in Iraq.

Sector operations chief General Abdel Amir Yarallah said some 20 villages around Sharqat had also been recaptured from IS.

The next goal is Hawija itself, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) to the southeast.

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General Abdel Amir Yarallah

After the defeat of IS in second city Mosul in July and the recapture of adjacent areas, Hawija and neighbouring towns form the last enclave still held by IS in Iraq apart from a section of the Euphrates Valley downstream from the border with Syria.

The mainly Sunni Arab enclave, which was bypassed by government forces in their advance north to Mosul last year, has been a bastion of insurgency ever since the first year of the US-led occupation in 2003.

The territory still held by IS in the “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria it proclaimed in 2014 has dwindled, with stronghold after stronghold coming under assault on both sides of the border.

Iraq soldiers, police and paramilitaries launched an offensive against the jihadists’s other remaining enclave earlier this week, pushing up the Euphrates Valley towards the IS-held towns of Anna, Rawa and Al-Qaim.