Iraqi government forces have captured a majority of Kirkuk from the Kurdish Peshmerga after a midnight offensive on Sunday.
The incursion into the city comes three weeks after the autonomous Kurdistan Region held an independence referendum resulting in an overwhelming mandate to separate from Baghdad.
Thousands of civilians returned to their homes in Kirkuk after fleeing from the city when Iraqi forces entered.
Kirkuk has a majority Kurdish population and was allowed to vote on Sept. 25.
Kurds held the city since 2014 when Daesh (IS) swept through the northern regions during their “lightening offensive” when they captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
The Kurdish military wing, known as the Peshmerga, were credited with defending key positions outside Kirkuk as Iraqi soldiers largely retreated during the militant advance.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had denounced the vote as unconstitutional, but the Kurdistan Regional Government insisted on its legitimacy.
The United States warned against the referendum in September, saying it feared it would disrupt the war against so-called Islamic State.
Now, Washington says they are “engaged with all parties in Iraq to de-escalate tension.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said they were “not taking sides.”
“We don’t like the fact that they’re clashing.”
The U.S. provided arms to both Iraqi and Kurdish forces to drive out Daesh from Iraq, including an eight-month-long offensive against IS in the major strategic city of Mosul.
KRG President Masoud Barzani said in October of 2016 that once the militants were driven from Mosul, they would hold a referendum. Mosul was liberated by allied forces during the summer of 2017.
Iraqi PM Abadi called upon citizens to co-operate with Iraqi federal forces in a statement posted on Monday.
“We call upon the Peshmerga forces to perform their duty under the federal leadership as part of the Iraqi armed forces,” the statement read, also asking business leaders in Kirkuk to continue work as normal.
Al-Abadi promised to defend citizen “rights, their gains, and national wealth from waste and corruption.”
“It is the property of all Iraqis, and we must live in this nation without discrimination.”
The campaign to liberate Mosul was launched in October 2016 by Iraqi security forces along with the Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni Arab tribesmen, and Shia militia numbering around 50,000 in total. The offensive was slow to start due to tough resistance from so-called Islamic State.
A U.S.-led coalition including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and France were active in different roles in the offensive ranging from airstrikes, ground support behind the front lines, and battleground medical camps.
Other members of the Combined Joint Task Force of Operation Inherent Resolve include Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Jordan, Morocco, the Netherlands, and Turkey.
The offensive’s second phase commenced late December 2016, with quick Iraqi gains in the eastern side of the former “Second City” of Iraq.
More details to follow. Image 1 of Iraqi forces flashing victory as they ride into Kirkuk taken Oct. 16, 2017 from Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images. ■
Turkish forces capture Afrin
On the third day of an offensive to drive out Kurdish fighters, Turkish armed forces have seized a number of villages in north-western Syria.
Turkish military personnel along with Syrian rebels have taken control of several areas in Afrin on Monday.
Following meetings with Russia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would not back down from the original plan to oust Kurdish fighters from Afrin.
Turkish government deems the Kurdish YPG militia group as a terrorist organization, whom they accuse of disrupting stability in the region.
“We are determined, Afrin will be sorted out, we will take no step back,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
Erdogan also claimed that Turkey has reached an agreement with Russia on this particular subject.
Ankara believes the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting for Kurdish independence from Turkey for three decades.
The YPG is a crucial part of a United States-led coalition fighting Daesh (IS) in Syria and has denied any direct links with PKK in Turkey.
Thus far, Turkey has condemned the US for supporting and supplying the YPG with arms.
Conflict of interest between the two NATO members will jeopardize the peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict.
More details to follow. Image 1 of Turkish army capturing Afrin from Reuters. ■
Kurdistan offers joint border to Iraq
The Kurdistan Region in Iraq offered to work with Baghdad to carry out a joint deployment of Kurdish and Iraqi forces to a strategic border crossing with Turkey.
Observers from the United States-led coalition against Daesh (IS), or Operation Inherent Resolve, were invited to participate.
The offer was extended “as a goodwill gesture and trust-building exercise that ensures a limited and temporary arrangement until an agreement is reached in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution”, read a statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s department of defence.
A halt in Iraqi advances has been in effect since Friday on orders from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Iraqi forces began an offensive against disputed Kurdish-controlled territories such as the city of Kirkuk and its surrounding oil fields.
Baghdad has also made attempts to take over international border crossings and in the past demanded international airports be handed over.
The advances came after Kurdish President Mosoud Barzani held an independence referendum for the semi-autonomous region on Sept 25, a vote the Iraqi government considers illegal.
The US-led coalition has worked closely with both the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi special forces in pushing so-called Islamic State out of Iraq.
When Daesh captured swathes of land across northern Syria and northwestern Iraq in 2014, many of the US-trained and equipped Iraqi forces fled their positions.
The Kurdish Peshmerga protected key infrastructure and launched the first pushes against Daesh.
A long campaign that started in October of 2016 for the capture of Mosul from the militants ended this past summer with government forces taking control once again.
More details to follow. Image 1 of Kurdish military from The Michigan Review. ■
US senator calls for strategy to support Kurds
United States Senator Marco Rubio criticized President Donald Trump’s administration for not having a strategy to support the Iraqi Kurds.
Mr Rubio, a member of Republican Party representing Florida, told Kurdistan 24 news agency on Monday that he wanted to know Washington’s plan in regards to the conflict brewing between the Iraqi government and the largely autonomous Kurdistan Region.
“I think Iran, working through these [Shia] militias, has achieved its objective, which is to divide the Kurds and grow in influence and power at the expense of America and our allies,” Rubio told K24.
“I think it’s important that we have a strategy that shows our continued commitment to the Kurdish people.”
The Kurdish military wing, known at the Peshmerga, have been instrumental in the fight against Daesh (IS) militants in Iraq. Their forces participated in the Mosul offensive that started in October of 2016, and have pushed militants out of northwest areas.
When so-called Islamic State took large swathes of territory in 2014 across northern Syria and northwest and western Iraq, Kurdish forces held on to key positions, including oil fields around Kirkuk ,while US-armed and trained Iraqi troops fled many posts.
Marco Rubio is a top Republican senator, sitting on both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence.
He aligns with Mr Trump with being against the nuclear non-proliferation deal with Iran signed under former US President Barack Obama’s administration.
The multilateral bargain allows for sanctions to be gradually lifted off Iran if they follow through on their agreement not to work towards nuclear weapon technology.
Critics like Rubio see this as a way for Iran to continue alleged state-funded militants, with the senator describing the country’s government as “the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.”
Rubio explained that Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani to seeking another turn at the helm of the Iraqi Kurdish leadership was a result of the Iranian mission to “divide the Kurds against each other.”
The senator told K24 that the Iranians look “to drive us out and become more powerful at our expense, and this is part of their strategy.”
Barzani, and the majority Kurdistan Democratic Party, held an independence referendum on Sept 25 of this year that gave an overwhelming mandate for the Kurdistan Region to separate from the central government in Baghdad.
However, the Iraqi leadership deemed the referendum and its results illegal and started a military offensive against Kurdish disputed positions in territory owned by Baghdad last month.
The United States, which has supported both Iraqi and Kurdish forces against Daesh, has called for calm on both sides. The US warned the Kurds against a referendum previously, saying it would disrupt the fight against Daesh militants.
The KRG are not the only Kurds US-led coalition’s have worked with against Daesh.
In Syria, the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces are the most effective fighting force against so-called Islamic State, having just recently re-captured the militant’s de facto capital of Raqqa on Oct 17.
The SDF are supported by the US-led coalition in Syria against Daesh.
More details to follow. With files from Kurdistan 24. Image 1 of Marco Rubio at a Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb 27, 2015 from Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons.
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