Iraqi forces drive towards Kurdish peshmerga positions on October 15, 2017, on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye Iraqi forces drive towards Kurdish peshmerga positions on October 15, 2017, on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye

No KRG, only the KDP and the PUK

Mon, Oct. 16, 2017
CAIRO – 16 October 2017: One major obstacle in understanding the ongoing conflict in and around Kirkuk is the composition of the forces involved. Since Kurdish Peshmerga forces retreated to Erbil and Sulimaniyah with such ‘coordinated’ speed and efficiency, this question is most pertinent when discussing the make-up of the Kurdish forces involved.

There has been many debates over whether there was a presence of Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) forces in Kirkuk. Although also ethnically Kurdish, the PKK are categorized as terrorists by the U.S. and Europe as a result of their actions during the fight for autonomy against the Turkish government.

Yesterday, the Iraqi government accused Kurdish authorities accepting PKK fighters to the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and said it considered the move a “declaration of war.” Although Barzani’s government in Erbil categorically denied the presence of PKK fighters in Kirkuk, this statement helped provide legitimacy and authority to the mission of the Iraqi Security Forces.

It is the Patriot Union of Kurdustan (PUK) who has grabbed the greatest attention.

Existing alongside the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) as the second major party in Iraqi Kurdistan, they have long been an opponent to the KDP in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

One prevalent theory blames the PUK for the collapse of the Peshmerga in Kirkuk and the yielding of the city with hardly a round fired.

Signs of internal conflict arose with the death of Jalal Talabani, who served as Iraq's president in Baghdad from 2003-2014, and passed away just two weeks ago. Pockets of the PUK-allied Peshmerga forces are not favourbale to Kurdish independence, and instead favour ties with Iran.

Peshmerga fighters hold a position on a river bank across from Iraqi forces on October 14, 2017, on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP
“Sadly, some PUK officials were supportive of the conspiracy against the Kurdistan nation [in Kirkuk], they intended [a] big and historical betrayal against Kurdistan and martyrs who sacrificed their lives for Kurdistan under the flag of PUK,” a Peshmerga statement read today.

Kurdish sources repeatedly claimed that Peshmerga forces had fortified their positions, however would not fight unless provoked and attacked first by forces from the south. The Peshmerga were attacked, but did not fight.

One thing is certain; this will go down as a dire day in Kurdish history. Not only have they lost Kirkuk, a financially strategic city and a symbol of Iraqi Kurdish strength; no, it has also shown that other factors behind the scenes have dictated the play.

It appears everyone was played. Worst of all however, is the citizens on the ground. The independence referendum was a moment of Kurdish jubilation, yet the past 24 hours have shown the average citizen that the Peshmerga were unable to protect the land they fought so vehemently to maintain in the battle of word against Baghdad.

It has shown how the Kurdish hierarchy was unable to unite in the face of Baghdad and Iranian-backed Shiite militia.

Now I appreciate that the Kurds do not make up the majority of the population in Kirkuk, but this is beside the point. The city of Kirkuk voted to separate from Iraq in the recent referendum, and thus put their faith, their trust and their support in the forces who had promised to defend them.

If Kurdistan fell because of a coordinated retreat, as part of a deal with Baghdad, there is a chance this might be understood by the population. However, if Kirkuk fell as a result of a military incapability then the Kurds have a big problem, and the entire campaign for independence may be at risk.

Members of the Iraqi forces stand next to a convoy heading to Kurdish positions on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk on Oct. 15. Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP/Getty Images
Regardless, we cannot begin to understand the full situation yet; it is still ongoing. However, what has become apparent is that the KDP and PUK accuse each other of not fighting. We have to hope that this lack of coordination and respect has not ripped an irreparable hole between the Kurds. Rarely in history has such an important, symbolic city fallen with such ease and little to no resistance.

Cleary there is no KRG, only the KDP and the PUK. Both have different agendas and different loyalties, and both failed the people of Kirkuk. I’m not advocating war or bloodshed of any kind, but when you fail to put words into action you lose respect, trust and love.

The people of Kirkuk went to sleep with faith in their security forces, yet they woke up to Shiite militias roaming deserted streets.


Joseph Colonna

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