Barzani vows to send extra forces to defend Kirkuk
Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani visited the strategic city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq on Tuesday where he met with provincial authorities and Peshmerga commanders in the Kirkuk frontlines, as well as meeting relatives of the captured Peshmerga fighters.
Barzani, addressing a crowd of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, local political party officials and journalists, promised to send additional forces to defend Kirkuk as he appointed a commander to oversee military operations in the province.
“We are not ready to relinquish even a hand’s width of Kurdish land,” he said. “If Kirkuk at any time becomes part of the Kurdistan Region again, it will be clear how well we will serve it.”
Peshmerga forces secured Kirkuk, following an ISIS blitzkrieg across Iraq in June, and reinforced troops already stationed there to prevent the city from falling to the religious zealots. The oilrich and multi-ethnic city – which is also claimed by Iraq’s Arabs – is regarded by the Kurds as the capital of a future state.
Barzani arrived in the city for the first time since a massive ISIS assault last month, in which dozens of Peshmerga were killed. In addition, 17 Peshmerga soldiers were taken captive by ISIS on the night of January 30 in a surprise attack, and last week paraded in orange jumpsuits inside cages in Hawija, south of Kirkuk.
The President warned that ISIS would pay dearly if it harmed those captives.
“The enemy should know that if those Peshmerga are killed, it will cost them heavily. Those who commit the crime and those who applaud will pay dearly. This is not something to pass easily,” he said.
Barzani also issued a reassurance to all Kirkuk residents, saying the Peshmerga are there to defend them all, “Arabs, Turkmen and Christians, not only the Kurds.”
Speaking from the frontlines, he said that the Kurds had not chosen war, but that it had been imposed on them. “We do not have any other way but to defend ourselves as a nation,” he said. “What the brave Peshmerga have done has impressed the whole world.”
ISIS militants have launched numerous attacks against the Peshmerga on many fronts, especially Kirkuk, Gwer and Makhmour since they were pushed back from the region in September.
Barzani said he wanted to correct a misconception: “Some people say that we have occupied Kirkuk. This is wrong. The Peshmerga were always in Kirkuk. Kirkuk is a city in Kurdistan and its Kurdish identity is not debatable. We are defending Kirkuk not occupying it.”