Kurdish Peshmarga face death to protect Kurdistan
The Kurdish people have shown their support for the Peshmarga forces to advance and take control of the long Kurdish disputed areas and return them to the autonomous Kurdistan Region in North of Iraq.
"Absolutely, it brings independence a step closer," said a well-placed source. A de facto partition of Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite regions is emerging.
"We have lost hope in the sanity of the people governing Iraq. We don't want to be part of the failure of something for which we're not responsible. Nobody gave more than us in the effort to keep Iraq together, but now we're giving up, there's no hope."
But the move is not without risks.
It brings the Kurdish forces into direct proximity with the militants who have taken over in Mosul and other adjacent areas.
In recent years, Kirkuk has already seen many suicides and other bomb attacks attributed to Sunni radicals, which are very rare in the KRG autonomous area itself.
If instability spreads, it could affect the current boom in investment and economic activity in Kurdistan, which has flourished while the rest of Iraq has largely stagnated and been mired in turmoil.
If the Sunni areas are starting to go their own way, much will depend on the composition of the dominant forces taking part in that process.
So far, the public face that has resonated around the world has been that of the ultra-radical al-Qaeda offshoot known as ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
But as with the anti-US insurgency from 2004 on, there are clearly other strands to the revolt, which explains the resonance it is having, and the speed of its movement through the mainly Sunni areas on which it is concentrating.
The Kurds have no sympathy for the ISIS radicals.
As Iraq descends deeper into chaos and the fires burn closer to Baghdad, the Kurds in the north have quietly taken advantage of the tumult to expand and tighten their control in the oilrich Kirkuk province, long the object of their dreams and aspirations.
The move was both defensive and ambitious, carrying strong elements of both opportunity and risk.
"Part of the motivation was to avert a humanitarian disaster," said a senior source in Irbil.
"Had we not filled the vacuum left by the Iraqi ar- my's departure, everybody would have flooded into the Kurdistan region. We would have half a million people banging on our doors.
"It's a lot simpler to send 100 Peshmergas (Kurdish military forces) to hold the fort and keep security, so that people could stay put. Once our units went in, the displaced started going back."
Northern Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, and the Kurdistan Communities Union, which controls the Kurddominated region of northeastern Syria, both pledged Wednesday to resist the Islamic State in Iraq and alSham, or ISIS, as the group extended dramatic military gains.
Thousands of men from the KRG's well-trained Peshmerga—which means "those who face death"— were deployed around the southern border of the Kurdish autonomous enclave. They included two brigades in Tuz Khurmatu, close to the disputed oil city of Kirkuk. Peshmerga units, which the KRG says are 190,000-strong, also set up checkpoints along the road to Mosul to regulate the flow of refugees and guard against militant attacks or infiltration.
"The Peshmerga forces are committed to protecting the security and stability of Kurdistan," said Safeen Dizayee, spokesman for the Regional Government in northern Iraq.
The Kurdistan Communities Union offered to assist Iraqi Kurds in warding off ISIS: "The guerrillas of Kurdistan are ready for the defense and security of Kurdistan," it said.
Islamist militants are battling Peshmerga fighters for control of oil fields and the key city of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq
Standing in freshly dug trenches, the Kurdish fighters trained their guns on the scrubland horizon, where a plume of black smoke rose into the blue sky.
To their right, on a river bank, soldiers calibrated their launchers and fired off a barrage of mortars.
Their target over a bridge was the jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and alSham. This was their heartland.
The Islamists were sweeping south in a lightning push toward Baghdad and Kirkuk was a key asset.
“We have clashed with ISIS and pushed them out of the city,” said Col Fatih Amir, 49, the Peshmerga commander in Kirkuk province.
“Now they are across this river,” he said, pointing across the bridge to Hawija, a Sunni Arab town that has become a center of control for the jihadists.
This is the front line of a new war between ISIS and the Kurdish forces, only a few hundred yards from the flares of Kirkuk’s lucrative gas fields.
The fighting threatens the global supplies of oil and gas and the workings of Western oil companies in the area.
Mortar shells fell within less than four miles of a major gas plant.
This is a conflict over which the national government, in the capital Baghdad, 160 miles to the south, now has little control. The Iraqi army has fled, no longer to be found.
The crisis in Iraq escalated rapidly on Thursday as Iraqi Kurdish forces took control of key military installations in the major oil city of Kirkuk and the Sunni jihadi group ISIS revealed its intention to move on Baghdad and cities in the southern Shiaa heartland.
The Kurdish Peshmerga fighters entered Kirkuk after the central government's army abandoned its posts in a rapid collapse during which it lost control of much of the country's north.
Iraq has been fragile since the 2003 US-led invasion and the latest developments have raised fears that it is in danger of splintering along ethnic and sectarian lines.
Northern Iraq's capable Kurdish forces have taken over areas long disputed with Baghdad, ostensibly to protect local Kurds from a Sunni militant offensive. But it's also a territorial gain.
A Kurdish flag has replaced the Iraqi flag flying over the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, in a clear symbol of how Iraq’s Kurds have benefited from this week's turmoil.
The Kurdish Peshmerga forces moved into areas long contested with Iraq’s central government, ostensibly to protect ethnic Kurds after Iraqi forces fled in the face of a swift offensive by Sunni jihadists. But no prize is greater than Kirkuk, a mixed-ethnicity city long viewed by Kurds as their cultural capital.
Now, after years of bickering with Baghdad and clashes with the Iraqi Army, the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has taken full control in a matter of hours – and Baghdad has been powerless to prevent it.