Kur­dish Pesh­marga face death to pro­tect Kur­dis­tan

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS -

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.

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