Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) celebrate on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) celebrate on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi military and militia push into Kurdistan

Tue, Oct. 17, 2017
CAIRO – 17 October 2017: The last 48 hours have shown the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, the people of Iraq and foreign observers one of two things. Either, the Kurdish Peshmerga transformed overnight into an inefficient, untrained and unviable security force, or that a deal was made behind closed doors between certain Kurdish factions and Baghdad which led to the rapid advancement of Iraqi and PMF forces in the Kirkuk disputed territory.

Rumors and evidence that the PUK reached some accommodation with Baghdad are swelling, and it was this accommodation which facilitated the swift movements of the Iraqi forces and the PMF in Kirkuk.

Without a strong and united Kurdish resistance to the military movements from the south, the Kurdish forces stationed in Kirkuk were unlikely to prevail. This came as a massive surprise to many, as the expectation was that if Iraqi and PMF forces were to launch a campaign against Kirkuk, the resistance would have been fierce.

There was a great deal of contention between the two dominant parties in Iraqi Kurdistan over the timing of the referendum. The PUK feared that the timing of the interdependence referendum, which took place on September 25, was timed as such to bolster Masoud Barzani’s role as President of Iraqi Kurdistan.

In conjunction with historical rivalries and leadership aspirations, this appears to have led to the downfall of the Kurdish resistance in Kirkuk as PUK elements honored newfound commitments to Baghdad over those to their ethnic allies.

What territory and strategic locations have been taken thus far?

- The city of Kirkuk, all administrative buildings and strategic locations.

- K-1 military base and Kirkuk airport.

- Tuz Khurmatu, Daquq, Jalawla, Shingal, Sinjar, Snune, Gwer, Makhmour, Khanaqinm, Snune, Kirkuk (Bai Hassan, Avana, Babagur Gur) oil fields

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Map of northern Iraq showing the 3 provinces that make up Iraqi Kurdistan and the neighboring province of Kirkuk. AFP / Gillian HANDYSIDE

It took the Iraqi army 9 months to capture Mosul, yet it only took 9 hours to take Kirkuk. The rapid and unprecedented fall of Kirkuk will be remembered in the history books as a significant turning point in Kurdish and Iraqi history.

The Iraqi flag now flies over vast swathes of territory which only days ago were occupied by Kurdish forces. It is too early now to predict the scope of the Iraqi/PMF operation into Iraqi Kurdistan. Thus far it is anticipated that the “disputed areas” will be the focus of the operation, but statements made by Abadi that the Peshmerga must fall under the authority of Baghdad may threaten the relative peace so far between Erbil and Baghdad. It is likely this peace will remain as long as the operation remains in the disputed areas only, however the loss of Kirkuk is a symbolic blow to the Iraqi Kurds, and may have cut their only lifeline to independence from the Iraqi state.

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Joseph Colonna



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