Posted tagged ‘Kurdish fighters’

Report: U.S. Troops Need to Remain in Middle East Post-ISIS to Block Iran ‘Land Bridge’

October 28, 2017

Report: U.S. Troops Need to Remain in Middle East Post-ISIS to Block Iran ‘Land Bridge’, Washington Free Beacon, October 28, 2017

A vehicle drives past a billboard bearing the logo of the Islamic State group in Madan area, in the countryside of Deir Ezzor / Getty Images

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he supports maintaining U.S. troops to support Iraqi forces in the country after ISIS operations come to an end.

Sunni and Kurdish forces have also expressed support for American forces to remain in the region after ISIS. They view U.S. troops as a way to uphold security and reduce Iran’s Shiite influence in Iraq.

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The United States needs to maintain a military presence in the Middle East after the battle against the Islamic State to block Iran’s attempt to carve out a land corridor connecting Tehran to the Mediterranean, according to a new report by two prominent Washington think tanks.

The report, released Thursday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for New American Security, recommends the United States collaborate with its coalition partners to leave troops at al-Tanf, a strategic Syrian border crossing with Jordan and Iraq, to cut off Iranian use of the strategic route.

In northern Syria, the report says American troops should leverage its close alliance with Kurdish forces to prevent Iran from shipping weapons into the country. Iran routinely sends weapons to the Bashar al-Assad regime and Hezbollah terrorists on the Syrian and Lebanese border.

Iran has been racing against U.S.-backed forces to establish areas of influence across Iraq and Syria to hold communication lines and more easily move its forces, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah, and other Shia militias in the region. The so-called land bridge would leverage Iranian power in the region and give its troops maximum battlefield flexibility and diversified supply routes.

Of particular interest is the border crossing between the southern Anbar and Deir Ezzor provinces as the territorial fight against the Islamic State enters its final phase.

The report says American-backed forces would effectively cut off Iran’s planned corridor if they retake the territory from ISIS. Even if Iranian proxies arrive to the region first, the report says the terrain is “highly inhospitable” for Shia militia groups.

The report warns the United States will not be able to fully block Iranian movement through Syria even if it follows through on all of its recommendations given the series of power voids throughout the country.

“Security vacuums plague eastern Syria and will continue to for years to come, and in that environment Iran will find opportunities to increase its influence and move materiel and personnel,” the report notes.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he supports maintaining U.S. troops to support Iraqi forces in the country after ISIS operations come to an end.

Sunni and Kurdish forces have also expressed support for American forces to remain in the region after ISIS. They view U.S. troops as a way to uphold security and reduce Iran’s Shiite influence in Iraq.

The Kurdish test

October 26, 2017

The Kurdish test, Israel Hayom, Clifford D. May, October 26, 2017

It’s essential that Trump make clear that further threats to the security and integrity of the Kurdish region will not be countenanced, and that any advance on Erbil will be met with stiff sanctions and, if necessary, force. The U.S. should insist that all military operations cease immediately and that negotiations between Baghdad and Kurdish leaders commence under American auspices.

Anything less will be interpreted as acquiescence to the Islamic republic’s drive to impose its brand of jihadism and Islamism on its neighbors and, in due time, far beyond.

To make America great again requires demonstrating that America is the best friend and the worst enemy any nation can have. During the Obama years, the opposite seemed to be the case. If aligning with the U.S. comes to be viewed as a chump’s game no matter who is in the White House, the U.S. will end up with no friends. It will have a growing list of emboldened enemies instead.

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In a just world, the Kurds would have a state of their own. Their culture is ancient. They speak a distinctive language. They have a homeland, Kurdistan, ruled for centuries by Arabs, Turks and Persians – foreigners and oppressors all.

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the victorious British and French created new Arab nation-states and put in motion a process that would lead to the restoration of a Jewish nation-state. But the Kurds – they got nothing.

In 1992 following the Gulf War, the U.S., along with Britain and France, set up a no-fly zone over the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. The goal was to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein whose genocidal war against the Kurds included a chemical weapons attack in the Kurdish city of Halabja four years earlier.

When Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, the Kurds greeted them as liberators. The Kurdistan Regional Government began to diligently nation-build, establishing the institutions and infrastructure necessary for independent statehood.

I don’t mean to oversell: The KRG has not become a democracy. Corruption is reportedly rampant – this is still the Middle East. Kurdish leaders, divided among themselves, have made mistakes.

Most recently, they held a referendum on independence. The results were no surprise. More than nine out of 10 Kurds want self-determination. The government in Baghdad won’t let them go without a fight. And the U.S., which is invested in a unitary Iraq, doesn’t want them to leave. Predictably, the referendum provoked the rulers of Turkey and Iran, who are adamant that their Kurdish subjects not get any big ideas.

Still, Kurdish society is open and tolerant. Kurdish schools actually educate young people. Nowhere in the so-called Muslim world will you find a people more pro-American. The Kurdish peshmerga forces have long been a reliable U.S. partner. In recent days, they have often – and bravely – taken point against Islamic State.

And now the Kurds are imperiled. Here’s what’s happened: On Oct. 13, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his Iran strategy. He declined to recertify the nuclear arms deal concluded by his predecessor. Among the reasons: Iran’s compliance cannot be verified so long as international inspectors are barred from the regime’s military facilities.

The president also is unwilling to turn a blind eye to Iran’s continuing development of missiles designed to deliver nuclear warheads, the “sunset” clauses that legitimize the mullah’s nuclear weapons program over time, and the terrorism that those mullahs sponsor. Notably, he designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization.

The Iranian response has been more than merely rhetorical. On Oct. 16, Iraqi forces, over which Iran’s rulers now exercise considerable influence, and Shia militias, many of them Iranian-backed, drove Kurdish troops out of oil-rich Kirkuk. According to credible reports, Maj. Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, the commander of foreign operations for the IRGC, was on hand to personally coordinate the operation.

Though Kirkuk is beyond the de facto borders of the KRG, Kurds have long viewed it as the Jerusalem of their homeland. It was a Kurdish-majority city until the Saddam regime determined to “Arabize” it, not least through population transfers.

In 2014, however, when Islamic State was on the march, Iraqi government forces abandoned Kirkuk. The peshmerga quickly filled the vacuum, defending the city and holding it ever since.

By orchestrating the taking of Kirkuk, Iran’s rulers are testing Trump. They are betting that, despite the tough talk, he won’t have the stomach to do what is necessary to frustrate their neo-imperialist ambitions.

In the end, they think he will attempt to appease and accommodate them as did former President Barack Obama. Trump reinforced that conviction when, in response to the fighting in Kirkuk, he said his administration was “not taking sides, but we don’t like the fact that they’re clashing.”

Over the weekend, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the Iranian Parliament’s director general for international affairs, tweeted that Iraqi government troops “will return Erbil to the united Iraq easier than Kirkuk, just within minutes.” Erbil is the capital of the KRG. On Tuesday, Shia militias launched an offensive against Kurdish troops near the Turkish frontier.

It’s essential that Trump make clear that further threats to the security and integrity of the Kurdish region will not be countenanced, and that any advance on Erbil will be met with stiff sanctions and, if necessary, force. The U.S. should insist that all military operations cease immediately and that negotiations between Baghdad and Kurdish leaders commence under American auspices.

Anything less will be interpreted as acquiescence to the Islamic republic’s drive to impose its brand of jihadism and Islamism on its neighbors and, in due time, far beyond.

To make America great again requires demonstrating that America is the best friend and the worst enemy any nation can have. During the Obama years, the opposite seemed to be the case. If aligning with the U.S. comes to be viewed as a chump’s game no matter who is in the White House, the U.S. will end up with no friends. It will have a growing list of emboldened enemies instead.

In a just world, Iran’s theocrats would have appreciated the fact that Obama reached out to them in a spirit of respect and reconciliation. In a just world, skilled diplomats would devise elegant power-sharing formulas that all sides would embrace in the interest of peace and stability. In a just world, the Kurds would have a right to self-determination.

But we don’t live in a just world. By now, that should be glaringly obvious.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The ‎Washington Times.‎

Iran has given US ‘slap in the face’ with Kirkuk: expert

October 19, 2017

Iran has given US ‘slap in the face’ with Kirkuk: expert, RudawRebaz Ali, October 17, 2017

Iran has delivered the US a “slap in the face” by backing Hashd al-Shaabi’s march on Kirkuk within just 60 hours of US President Donald Trump’s speech, says Michael Pregent.

Speaking to Rudaw’s Rebaz Ali on Monday as events were unfurling in Kirkuk, Pregent expressed frustration over Washington’s stance on the Kurds, believing Washington is too close to the ruling Dawa party of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Answering questions from the media later in the day, Trump refused to take sides, simply stating “We don’t like the fact that they’re clashing. We’re not taking sides, but we don’t like the fact that their clashing.”

A Middle East analyst, Pregent is a former intelligence officer for the US Departments of Defense and State. He embedded as an advisor to the Peshmerga in Mosul in 2005-2006

Rudaw: Why is the US so silent on the situation happening in Kirkuk and Hashd al-Shaabi using American weapons against Peshmerga?

Michael Pregent: We’re surprised. We issued an order, not an order but a warning to Baghdad not to use military force against Kurdish positions in and around Kirkuk. Secretary Mattis said that, the president gave a very strong speech on Friday designating the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and the Hashd al-Shaabi are commanded by IRGC affiliates, Revolutionary Guard Corps affiliates. We pay money to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and they’re shifting American resources and equipment to these Iranian-led militias. We had a statement today that the Baghdad spokesman said Qassem Soleimani is an advisor to the Hashd al-Shaabi.

We are watching. I know we’re watching. The DoD (Department of Defense) is aware, the Pentagon’s aware and we’re going to see the results tomorrow morning in DC of what happened in the last six hours and through the night. We’re likely to see that this is exactly what the United States cannot allow. But more importantly, this just shows that we’re losing leverage with Baghdad. If you warn Baghdad and they do it anyway, it’s because Tehran is telling them to do it and they are okay with it, they agree. But this is an opportunity now for the United States, especially after the president’s speech, where he was very tough on Iran, to do something because this is testing American resolve by a Qassem Soleimani-led force moving against our allies, allies we’ve had since the Gulf War, even before that, moving against our allies less than 60 hours after the president designated them a terrorist group*.

So tomorrow, Washington DC will wake up and see what happens and everybody hopefully holds their positions tonight, the Iraqi security forces stop, the Hashd al-Shaabi are declared an illegal military, an illegal militia and moved out. But tomorrow, veterans of the Iraq war, myself and others, veterans in Congress that I speak to will be making our voices as loud as we can for the US to do something. This is, as an American who fought with the Peshmerga, to see this is… uh… I don’t have any words. So, we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

We just saw a statement from the Pentagon asking both sides to be calm and to restrain from using violence, but in fact, it’s the Hashd al-Shaabi who started attacking the Peshmerga and they started the violence that the Pentagon is talking about. What do you think about that?

Well, I saw the statement and the language I didn’t like was ‘we urge both sides to stop, yet we still condemn the Kurdish referendum’. That language actually gives Tehran, Baghdad, and Ankara a green light to do these types of actions. The United States needs to have a strong statement. The vote was a democratic vote. The vote was not an illegal vote. It should not be met with force. It should not be met with violence. I don’t believe that that was crafted by Mattis. I believe it was crafted by the DoD communications department, because the language is not Mattis-like. The language is very Brett McGurk-like… and [it’s a problem].

So people like yourself, the veterans, how do you think they’re going to respond to this? You fought against this in Iraq for years and now you see this happening. This must be frustrating for you and people like yourself. What do you think you need to do? 

Well, the thing we’ve been fighting for for two years is the designation of the Revolutionary Guard corps as a terrorist organization and the decertification of the Iran deal. We got that Friday. That needs to mean something. Our Sunni regional allies heard the president’s message. It was very strong. This should restore confidence in our regional allies.

Pillar number one is to neutralize the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ destabilizing activities across the region. The Kirkuk operation is a destabilizing activity. You can’t give a tough speech and then allow Iran less than 60 hours later to move against an ally. So I would hope that veterans are upset as well, civilians alike.

The Kurdish people are built for western democracy support. They’re built for democratic support. They’re tolerant, they’re accepting, and I find it ironic that the United Nations and other non-government organizations choose to operate out of Kurdistan in order to help Iraqis throughout. When there’s instability in Baghdad, when ISIS invaded Iraq, people go to Kurdistan. Why do they go to Kurdistan? Because it’s an accepting region, it takes care of its own security. It’s an ally of the West. There’s problems, yes, but let’s talk about the problems. We don’t use military action to solve them.

We saw the speech by the president on Iran, but now we see that Qassem Soleimani has been going around in Iraq, meeting with the prime minister and ordering the Hashd al-Shaabi and other militias against the Kurdish Peshmerga, as you said, less than 60 hours after the president’s speech. What does that say about the US involvement in Iraq? Do you think after this or tomorrow, are we going to see less support for the government of Iraq and Prime Minister Abadi from the US government, after what they have seen in the last couple of days, the Iraqis dealing with Qassem Soleimani and the IRGC?

Well, this shows the president that the Iranians didn’t take him seriously. They heard the speech and they’re scoffing at it. This is a slap in the face to a US president by conducting these types of activities after this speech.

Baghdad is part of this, so Baghdad is doing the same thing. I don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors, but I do know that Secretary Mattis issued a statement and Abadi promised the United States he would not conduct an offensive operation against the Kurds. That operation is ongoing now. I truly believe that even if Abadi didn’t want to do it, the Iranians could still make this happen. The Quds force commander on the ground, I don’t know his name, but he actually told KDP officials and PUK officials, “Listen, either work with us or we can bring the whole Iraqi army here.”

So this is an Iranian commander telling Kurdish political parties that we can tell the Iraqi army what to do, we can tell the Iraqi government what to do. And I think that everybody believes that, because we’re seeing it. We’re witnessing it.

So you said this is a slap in the face for President Trump. How do you think President Trump would react to this slap in the face? Do you think that he’s going to accept it?

I don’t think President Trump knows he’s been slapped in the face. The president needs to know who the Kurds are. The president needs to know that the Kurds have been our strongest US ally in Iraq. That the Kurds have helped us fight ISIS, they helped us decimate al-Qaeda. They’ve protected Sunnis, Christians, Shiite nationalists from reprisal attacks from Shia militias as civilians fled to Kurdistan after the violence in Baghdad in 2005-06.

I was actually in Duhok and a family came up to me and said, ‘We can’t talk to you in Baghdad, and thank you, because we’ll get targeted, but thank you for being here.’ I didn’t know who they were. I said ‘Where are you from?’ They said, ‘We’re from Sadr city.’ So that means something.

But I think the president needs to know who the Kurds are and I don’t think he does. [Secretary James] Mattis does, H.R. McMaster does, I don’t think [Rex] Tillerson does. And I think Brett McGurk knows exactly who the Kurds are, but he’s already picked sides. And that’s not coming from me necessarily. That’s coming from everybody I’ve talked to on the ground in Iraq, from Sunni nationalists, Kurdish nationalists, Shiite nationalists, they say the biggest problem is the US government is listening more to the Dawa party than they are to anybody else in Iraq.

What’s happening now is all going on in front of the US government’s eyes. They see how Prime Minister Abadi and the government of Iraq have been declining calls for negotiation from the KRG in order to avoid violence. There has been a blockade, international flights have been banned. And the KRG have been trying to do everything to start negotiations in order to avoid violence, but Prime Minister Abadi and the government in Iraq have declined that. What do you think the United States should do? Why have they been so silent against this?

I think the biggest problem is we’ve given the Iraq portfolio to a man from the Department of State – to Brett McGurk. Now Brett McGurk told DC, Baghdad, Tehran, and Ankara that he could stop the Kurdish people from voting, that the US had enough leverage with the Kurds to get them to stop. Last night, he probably told DC that he had enough leverage with Baghdad to get Baghdad to stop, to not go into Kirkuk. Either that, or he’s signaled some sort of green light.

I’m frustrated by this, because this does not bode well for the relationships we’ve established with Kurds. The Peshmerga that I know, I’ve known for almost 12 years now, and I don’t ever want to put a time limit on a friendship or an alliance. And I think this is a moment where the United States… you know we got the strong statement on Iran, we got a designation of the IRGC, we’re talking about their destabilizing activities. This is what it looks like less than 60 hours after the speech. This is a provocation. This is a slap in the face.

How do you envision the future relationship between the US and the Kurdish government after what’s happening now? A lot of people believe that they have been betrayed by the US government.

Well if this continues and Baghdad conducts a military operation like they have against ISIS-held territory, if you start seeing mortars and artillery like we’re seeing tonight in – what’s the name of the city?

Tuz.

Yes. We’re seeing that now. I would hope that this gets taken care of tomorrow, that this stops. But our relationship with Kurdistan – basically, every US soldier that has ever worked with a Peshmerga is now looking to our US government, saying ‘Don’t do this to this ally of ours, you can’t do it.’ I don’t even have the words for this.

* On Friday, President Trump authorized sanctions on the IRGC for its support of terrorism, but stopped short of designating the force a terror organization.

Iran Plays Chess, We Play Checkers

October 17, 2017

Iran Plays Chess, We Play Checkers, FrontPage MagazineKenneth R. Timmerman, October 17, 2017

I am not dissing the new Iran strategy the President rolled out on Friday, far from it. My Iranian dissident friends drew much encouragement from the President’s willingness to take an all fronts approach against the Iranian regime, not just focus on its nuclear weapons program. The fact that he mentioned the regime’s dreadful record of human rights abuses and political repression was significant.

But does it really mean the U.S. is finally ready to provide material support to a pro-freedom coalition in Iran to spark a popular uprising against the regime?

Don’t hold your breath. The Deep State would never abide by it.

Barzani himself has made bad moves. He has recklessly endangered his Queen (Kirkuk), while not defending his King (Erbil). And while doing so, he has tweaked the nose of his only committed ally, the United States, and alienated his local rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of former Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, who died on October 3.

Barzani appears to have realized he has overstepped with his ill-timed and poorly-prepared referendum, and has agreed to cede the K-1 airbase and other positions south of Kirkuk to Iranian-backed Iraqi government forces south of Kirkuk.

It’s time for the United States to face facts and recognize that an independent, united Iraq ceased to exist several years ago, and that the only way for us to check Iranian domination of the region is to support a united, independent and democratic Kurdistan, with U.S. military bases in Kirkuk and Erbil.

To get there will require a great deal of hands-on diplomacy, because Barzani has shown himself to be reckless, unreliable and undemocratic. We need to working the ground, aligning the players.

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And the Kurds pay the price for our mistakes.

The Iranian-backed attack in Iraqi Kurdistan is nothing short of disastrous for the United States, for U.S. interests and U.S. allies in the region, and for American prestige.

It’s a hockey-style power play by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Suleymani, and a direct challenge to President Trump, coming just hours after the President announced a new get tough policy on Iran.

A U.S. ally in Baghdad is attacking another U.S. ally in Kurdistan using U.S. weapons, including M1-A2 Abrams tanks, paid for with U.S. taxpayer dollars. And they are doing so under the watchful eyes of U.S. and coalition drones and fighter jets, which continue to control the skies over Iraq.

How in the world did we get here?

Even Democrats should be ready to admit by now that the American withdrawal from the Middle East under Obama and the Iran nuclear deal have emboldened the Iranian regime, while removing much of the hard-won leverage over Iran that sanctions had won for us.

Today, if we want to get tough on Iran, we can no longer call on our European allies to shut down Iran’s access to the international financial system. We can no longer impose gargantuan fines on a French or a German bank to punish them for violating those sanctions and to deter them from doing it again.

Today, our main leverage over Iran is military. We can bomb their forces in Iraq. We can intercept their ships. Eventually, we could take out their nuclear weapons production facilities.

If that sounds an awful lot like war, it’s because it is.

As Thomas Jefferson reportedly said in relation to the Barbary Pirates, an earlier jihadi Muslim confederacy that declared war on America: sanctions are the only option between appeasement and war. Obama just removed sanctions. QED.

But the Trump administration is not without blame.

The President instructed his national security team to take a fresh look at our overall strategy toward the Islamic State of Iran early in his presidency. To show how serious the administration was, national security advisor Michael Flynn “put Iran on notice” in an on-record briefing on Feb. 1.

And then, something happened. Rather than continue the “get tough” policy by decertifying the Iran nuclear deal, imposing new sanctions and other measures as Flynn was recommending, the President fired Flynn and other hard-line advisors, and everything turned to mush.

I am not dissing the new Iran strategy the President rolled out on Friday, far from it. My Iranian dissident friends drew much encouragement from the President’s willingness to take an all fronts approach against the Iranian regime, not just focus on its nuclear weapons program. The fact that he mentioned the regime’s dreadful record of human rights abuses and political repression was significant.

But does it really mean the U.S. is finally ready to provide material support to a pro-freedom coalition in Iran to spark a popular uprising against the regime?

Don’t hold your breath. The Deep State would never abide by it.

But Qassem Suleymani wasn’t going to wait to find out. Perhaps assuming – correctly – that the U.S. President was leaning out over his skis, he decided to act decisively to test the President’s resolve.

Want to get tough on the Iranian regime, Mr. President? Then bomb the Iranian-backed militias attacking our Kurdish allies in Northern Iraq and send U.S. special forces to capture Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleymani, a war criminal who has the blood of more than a thousand U.S. soldiers on his hands. (Watch a video of how Iran killed our soldiers in Iraq here).

Because that’s what Suleymani is daring you to do. And he’s betting, you won’t lift a finger to help the Kurds or to threaten him in any way.

In Middle East parlance, that makes Suleymani – not Donald Trump – the strong horse, the one to be feared and respected.

To be fair to Suleymani, he has been advancing his pieces like a brilliant chess player, springing his trap on us at precisely the moment when it would cause us the most damage.

First, in 2014 as ISIS was preparing its assault on Mosul and the Assyrian Christian and Kurdish regions of Northern Iraq, he instructed his puppet, then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to order the Iraqi army to withdraw from Mosul ahead of the ISIS advance.

That left Mosul defenseless and accounts for why ISIS was able to take over the city in a matter of hours without a fight.

Maliki fled briefly to Iran after his role in the abandon of Mosul was revealed in the Iraqi media, and was soon replaced by Qassem Suleymani’s new front man, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

Same puppet-master, new puppet.

Next, he recruited 100,000 Iraqi Shiite fighters into the Hasht-e Shahbi militia, known in English as the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMU. They might be Iraqis, but they are owned by Qassem Suleymani and his Quds Force.

When the U.S. decided to rearm the Iraqi military to join the fight against ISIS, Suleymani positioned PMU units to fill the vacuum when ISIS left.

As I learned in July while on a reporting mission to northern Iraq, the PMU faced off with the Kurdish peshmerga all across the Nineveh Plain and was already threatening to confront them in Kirkuk.

As the U.S.-backed Iraqi army drove ISIS out of Iraq, Suleymani’s PMU raced to the border with Syria, opening a land bridge for Iran into Syria and Lebanon, putting Iran on Israel’s northern border directly for the first time.

Today, Suleymani and his strategy ally, Turkish president Erdogan, want to jerk the leash of Iraqi Kurdish president Massoud Barzani to make him realize who really calls the shots in the region.

Guess what: for all of Donald Trump’s welcome bravoura, it’s not the United States.

One immediate goal both the Turks and Iranians share is to eliminate safe havens in Iraqi Kurdistan for the PKK and PJAK, Turkish and Iranian Kurdish dissident groups. Both have reiterated that demand in recent days.

Beyond that, they want to make Barzani kneel as a vassal to his suzerain, and abandon all hopes for Kurdish independence. That can only happen if the United States drops its support for the KRG.

Barzani himself has made bad moves. He has recklessly endangered his Queen (Kirkuk), while not defending his King (Erbil). And while doing so, he has tweaked the nose of his only committed ally, the United States, and alienated his local rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of former Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, who died on October 3.

Barzani appears to have realized he has overstepped with his ill-timed and poorly-prepared referendum, and has agreed to cede the K-1 airbase and other positions south of Kirkuk to Iranian-backed Iraqi government forces south of Kirkuk.

So far, the Pentagon is pretending that nothing is happening, just a bit of maneuvering among friends.

This is not just embarrassing, it is dangerous, wrong-headed, and will lead to total disaster. We’ve already lost Iraq, thanks to Obama’s withdrawal in 2011. Now we are about to lose the last ally on the ground that we have, the Kurds.

It’s time for the United States to face facts and recognize that an independent, united Iraq ceased to exist several years ago, and that the only way for us to check Iranian domination of the region is to support a united, independent and democratic Kurdistan, with U.S. military bases in Kirkuk and Erbil.

To get there will require a great deal of hands-on diplomacy, because Barzani has shown himself to be reckless, unreliable and undemocratic. We need to working the ground, aligning the players.

We need to be playing chess, not checkers.

Iraqi forces recapture contentious Kirkuk in overnight offensive

October 16, 2017

Iraqi forces recapture contentious Kirkuk in overnight offensive, Long War Journal, October 16, 2017

The clashes in Kirkuk have exposed rifts between Iraqi Kurdistan’s rival political parties: the Patriot Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The PUK reportedly permitted Baghdad to advance into Kirkuk, despite KDP dissent. The PUK and the Talabani family receive support from Iran, raising suspicion about a potential backroom deal to hand over the city to Iranian-aligned forces and undermine the KDP. Prominent Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Javed Zarif and Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, have visited Iraqi Kurdistan recently to pay respects to Jalal Talabani, former president of Iraq and Talabani family patriarch. The PUK’s rival, the KDP, received the lionshare of credit for ushering in the Kurdish referendum.

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Iraqi troops from the US-trained Counter-Terrorism Service, backed by Iranian-supported Popular Mobilization Forces, seized control of the city of Kirkuk from the Kurdish Regional Government today in a rapid offensive launched within the last 24 hours. The Iraqi government quickly capitalized on its victory against the Islamic State in the adjacent city of Hawija and turned its energy on the secessionist Kurds in Kirkuk. The quick strike exposed deep fault lines existing within the anti-Islamic State coalition and Kurdish politics.

The United States has trained and equipped both Kurdish and Iraqi forces as part of the ongoing anti-Islamic State operation. The military operation followed heightened tensions resulting from the Sept. 25 Kurdish independence referendum. It also followed President Trump’s announcement of a new Iran strategy on Friday.

Kirkuk, an economically significant city in northern Iraq with more than one million residents, has been a political and sectarian hotspot since the US ousted Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. Kurdish forces have controlled Kirkuk since the summer of 2014, when the Iraqi military fled northern Iraq following the Islamic State’s invasion. Kirkuk, which is outside of the established borders of the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government, is a major oil producing region in Iraq.

Kirkuk has also been a major sectarian faultline in Iraq, with Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians, and Sunni Arabs jockeying for influence in the government.

The Government of Iraq’s War Media Cell, the outlet which has been reporting on the anti-Islamic State fight, has been releasing updates on the Kirkuk offensive. At around noon local time, the War Media Cell reported that Iraqi forces controlled the Kirkuk Airport, also known as K-1. In its most recent post, the War Media Cell reported that Iraqi forces control a number of key points in Kirkuk, including the industrial neighborhood and North Oil Company, as well as a power plant, a refinery, and a police station.

Before Iraqi troops entered Kirkuk, Kurdish Peshmerga forces clashed with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) south of the city. The Kurdistan Regional Government claimed Peshmerga forces “destroyed at least five US Humvees used by [the] PMF” as it advanced south and southwest of the city.

The Iraqi government has relied on the PMF, a grouping of militias most of which are backed by Iran, for support in its fight against the Islamic State. Iranian-linked militias have played a key role in liberating cities such as Mosul, Ramadi, Fallujah, Tikrit, Baiji, and most recently Hawija, from Islamic State rule. The Iraqi government has institutionalized the PMF as an official military arm. Its top leaders are known Iranian proxies, as are some of its largest and most capable militias.

The United States has been reticent to criticize or mitigate the rise of the Iranian-backed PMF within Iraqi security infrastructure due to the prioritization of the anti-Islamic State fight. In some cases, the US even appears to be praising them. In the most recent Operation Inherent Resolve press briefing, Maj. Gen. Robert White, the ground commander of coalition forces involved in Iraq, described the PMF as “the fourth cohort of the ISF that are sanctioned by the government of Iraq. And so they have been an integral part of the successes that the Iraqi Security Forces have had to date.”

The US has continued to emphasize the precedence of the anti-Islamic State fight. CENTCOM dismissed the engagement in Kirkuk as a “misunderstanding.” Maj. Gen. White encouraged dialogue and a refocus on “the defeat of our common enemy, ISIS, in Iraq.” The Islamic State’s territorial control has waned over the past year, but the self-declared caliphate retrains strategic locations in the Euphrates River Valley.

The clashes in Kirkuk have exposed rifts between Iraqi Kurdistan’s rival political parties: the Patriot Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The PUK reportedly permitted Baghdad to advance into Kirkuk, despite KDP dissent. The PUK and the Talabani family receive support from Iran, raising suspicion about a potential backroom deal to hand over the city to Iranian-aligned forces and undermine the KDP. Prominent Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Javed Zarif and Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, have visited Iraqi Kurdistan recently to pay respects to Jalal Talabani, former president of Iraq and Talabani family patriarch. The PUK’s rival, the KDP, received the lionshare of credit for ushering in the Kurdish referendum.

Iranian-supported militias have praised the Peshmerga surrender, specifically crediting the PUK. Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a prominent Shiite militia complicit in the killing of American soldiers, released a statement praising the PUK for taking the “responsible position” and for not succumbing to the “personal and familial interests of the separatists.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal. Alexandra Gutowski is a military affairs analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Iran-backed Iraqi ultimatum to Kurds to leave Kirkuk. First test for Trump’s threat to Rev Guards

October 14, 2017

Iran-backed Iraqi ultimatum to Kurds to leave Kirkuk. First test for Trump’s threat to Rev Guards, DEBKAfile, October 14, 2017

After Trump declared that the entire IRGC was guilty of terrorism, including all its agents and proxies – the Iraqi PMU militia would lay itself open to the definition of terrorists for attacking Kurdish forces, who are America’s frontline military ally in the war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

All eyes in the Middle East are watching to see how the Trump administration responds to such an attack if it takes place. Its non-response would be interpreted by Tehran as a license for its IRPG to keep going.

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar Al-Abadi Saturday night, Oct. 14, gave the Kurdish Peshmerga an ultimatum to surrender the positions in the Kirkuk oil region they have held since pushing ISIS out three years ago, and also cancel the Kurdish Republic’s Sept. 25 independence vote.

The Kurdish troops were given until early Sunday to comply with those demands, in the face of heavily armed troops of the Iraqi army and Popular Mobilization Force (PMU), an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, massed around Kirkuk.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal exclusively that the Iraqi prime minister issued this ultimatum under heavy pressure from al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. He placed the PMU at Abadi’s disposal and any arms he might need for an operation to fight the Kurds, should they defy the ultimatum. They stand against thousands of The KRG fighters deployed around Kirkuk.

Over the weekend, both sides beefed up their military strength in and around Iraq’s northern oil city. Iraq has deployed to Kirkuk the PMU as well as special operations units to face a Peshmerga force of 9,000 fighters.

Just hours before the deadline, a Peshmerga commander on the western front said Kurdish fighters had “taken all the necessary measures” and were “ready for a confrontation” if necessary.

American forces, who maintain a small military team in Kirkuk for carrying messages between the opposing camps, proposed a number of compromises, but they were all rejected by the Iraqi prime minister.

Washington also notified Baghdad that the US would not tolerate military aggression against Irbil, capital of the KRG, Dohuk or Sulaymaniyah, or military incursions of Kirkuk, only a small party of civilian officials.

It is not clear whether Abadi will heed Washington’s directives. However, DEBKAfile’s sources stress that President Donald Trump’s speech Friday night, laying out a new, tough strategy for Iran and its Revolutionary Guards,  lent a potential military clash over Kirkuk a new perspective beyond a local conflict.

After Trump declared that the entire IRGC was guilty of terrorism, including all its agents and proxies – the Iraqi PMU militia would lay itself open to the definition of terrorists for attacking Kurdish forces, who are America’s frontline military ally in the war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

All eyes in the Middle East are watching to see how the Trump administration responds to such an attack if it takes place. Its non-response would be interpreted by Tehran as a license for its IRPG to keep going.

United States may act pragmatically but should eventually stand with the Kurds

October 3, 2017

United States may act pragmatically but should eventually stand with the Kurds, Center for Security Policy, Luis Fleischman, October 3, 2017

(Please see also, Hypocrisy: A state for the Palestinians but not for the Kurds or Catalonia. — DM)

The U.S should stick to principles. We must act pragmatically, but we must also view the Kurds as our allies. We owe them and should not betray them. Members of Congress have spoken out on the issue; the Administration should do the same.

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On September 25th, Iraqi Kurds voted in a referendum for independence from the Iraqi state.

The plebiscite reflects the aspirations of the Kurdish people for self-determination. Though non-binding, 93% of the voters supported the referendum, revealing the strength of the Kurdish will for independence.

Historically, countries in the Middle East have denied sovereignty to non-Arab and non-Muslim groups in favor of Arab or Islamic hegemony throughout the region. Therefore, the idea of creating minority states has always been met with resistance and even violence.

In the Arab world, there are substantial non-Arab minorities, such as the Kurds, and non-Muslim minorities, such as Christian Arabs. Some of these minorities were integrated into their respective countries, but others were legally discriminated against or oppressed in some way or another. The only minority group to successfully achieve self-determination were the Jews, and Israel therefore remains a symbol of indignation to the much larger Arab and Muslim majority countries in the region.

This attitude has been encapsulated by the Palestinian Authority’s reaction to Kurdish secession in Iraq. Despite its own aspirations for self-determination, the PA has declared opposition to Kurdish independence because “Kurdish independence would be a poisoned sword against the Arabs,” according to Saeb Erekat, a senior adviser to the PA. Again, the Palestinians seem to hold onto this old Pan-Arabic, Pan-Islamic view that sovereignty of minorities is not to be tolerated.

Although they are Muslim, the Kurds have retained a distinct language and culture, and have viewed themselves historically as a separate non-Arab group with a unique tradition. About 25 million Kurds live in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey altogether.

In Syria, the Kurds have been discriminated against systematically; they lack Syrian citizenship and are entitled neither to medical care nor even bank accounts. In Iraq, they were subjected to coerced Arabization and under Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds and expelled many hundreds of thousands more.

In Iran, Kurds have been coerced into cultural assimilation and many of their political and intellectual leaders have been executed. Thus, when the Kurds approved the referendum in Iraq, the large Kurdish population in Iran was jubilant. leaving the Iranian government uneasy.

After the Kurds approved the referendum, Turkey threatened to cut off their oil pipeline to the region. The Iraqi government also made threats aimed at boycotting and making the Kurds’ lives increasingly difficult. Even worse perhaps, Iraq joined forces with Iran, aiming to secure Iraqi control over border crossings from Kurdish-controlled areas.

Although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told the Kurds that the U.S would not recognize the referendum, calling it ‘illegitimate”, the coalition of Iraq, Iran and Turkey against the Kurds should be strongly repudiated. The U.S can try to mediate in the negotiations in order to pacify tensions between the Kurds and their neighbors, but should also strongly oppose measures against the Kurds.

The Kurds have been an invaluable tool in the fight against ISIS; for that reason, have proved to be one of most reliable allies we have in the Middle East.

Moreover, Iran continues to be a rogue state that carries out destabilizing activities in the Middle East and elsewhere. If the Kurdish referendum promotes Kurdish dissidence in Iran, this should be a welcoming development in itself.

In addition, for the government of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in Iraq to use Iran as recourse against the Kurds, it is an evidence of how unreliable the Iraqi government is. Iran has established Shiite sectarian rule in Iraq and made way for the Sunni alienation that eventually gave rise to ISIS. The U.S must remain determined in its message that alliances with Iran are not to be tolerated.

Curiously, a news analysis published by the New York Times criticized the Kurdish leadership as monarchical, non-democratic, dynastic, and therefore unworthy of self-governance.  These assertions are clearly untenable, given the fact that the governments of those neighboring countries that reject Kurdish independence are also patently undemocratic, yet their legitimacy is not questioned. The Times, which enthusiastically champions Palestinian self- determination, forgets that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a corrupt and oppressive kleptocracy– not much better than a monarchical dynasty. Furthermore, there are very few examples in history where countries that gained independence immediately established a democratic government.

The U.S should stick to principles. We must act pragmatically, but we must also view the Kurds as our allies. We owe them and should not betray them. Members of Congress have spoken out on the issue; the Administration should do the same.