Since voting overwhelmingly for independence in September, Kurds in northern Iraq have faced military invasion by government troops and Tehran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militia that seized Kirkuk and a total of 30 percent of the area the Kurdish Regional Government had controlled.
After the invasion, some 180,000 Kurds and other residents fled. A large number took refuge in the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. Shiite-led militias looted and burned hundreds of homes in Tuz Khurmatu in southern Kirkuk. “We do believe, yes, that the operation to take over Kirkuk was led by the Iranians with knowledge of the U.S. and British officials,” Masoud Barzani, long-time leader of the Kurdish struggle and head of the Kurdish Democratic Party, told Newsweek. He said that the Kurds will have to re-evaluate their relations with Washington, adding it had been a big surprise to them that the U.S. government allowed the Iraqi army to use U.S.-provided weapons to attack the Kurds.
While there is a temporary military truce on the ground, the Iraqi government continues to set the groundwork for further attacks. They have ceased all reference to the Kurdish Regional Government or its authority as defined in Iraq’s Constitution. Instead, the Shiite-controlled government has instructed state agencies to refer to the Kurdish region as “the provinces of northern Iraq” or just plain “Iraq.”
For the first time, anti-U.S. protests have taken place in Erbil, the KRG’s capital. They included signs being hung around the city saying, “US armed PMF to kill civilians.” PMF are the initials for the Popular Mobilization Forces, the official name of the Shiite militias.
Iraqi troops and Hashd al-Shaabi militia are still sitting outside the Fishkabour border crossing between Kurdistan and Syria. Peshmerga leaders and Iraqi army brass are engaged in discussion about who should control the crossing.
“The purpose of the Iraqi Federal Government,” peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hikmat told Kurdistan 24 News Nov. 2, is “to recreate what happened in Kirkuk in other parts of the Kurdistan Region.”
The Kurds also faced economic attack and threatened military action from both Tehran and Ankara, each of which oppresses a substantial Kurdish population and fears that an independent Kurdistan would inspire the Kurds within their borders.
Shifts in military and political alliances with the looming end to the ground war against Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, and of the civil war in Syria as well, have led to threats by the dictatorial government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus against Kurds there. Syrian Kurds, with the backing of Washington up to now, have been the most effective fighters against Islamic State.
Assad is threatening to invade the autonomous Kurdish region in Syria. Bouthaina Shaaban, a top adviser to Assad, said pointedly that what had happened to the KRG in Iraq “should be a lesson” to Kurds in Syria.
When Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was in Syria for consultations with Assad, told Reuters that Syrian troops “would soon advance to take Raqqa” from Kurdish fighters.
The big question, of course, is whether Washington will step out of the way as it did in Iraq.
“The U.S. rulers have alternately doled out aid with an eyedropper to Kurdish nationalist groups,” wrote Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes in “Opening Guns of World War III: Washington’s Assault on Iraq,” in New International no. 7, “ and then abruptly cut off this backing, depending on Washington’s shifting relations with regimes in the area, especially Baghdad and Tehran.”
Tehran-Saudi conflict grows in war-torn Middle East
NY protest: ‘Stop aggression against Kurdistan!’
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