Iraqi government forces and Shia militias have occupied Kirkuk for the first time since 2014, the year Daesh made their away across Iraq. Although Kirkuk is not part of Iraqi Kurdistan it has been under the control of Kurdish forces. In the September referendum it voted by a sizeable majority in favour of independence.
Up to half a million Kurds are now fleeing Kirkuk for northern Iraq Following the referendum Kurdish peshmerga and civilians gathered arms and prepared themselves for a threatened takeover. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest Kurdish party and the party of the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani, has accused the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of abandoning Kirkuk to the government. The PUK has met Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, whom the New Yorker named as “Iran’s chief spymaster”. The meeting seems to have led to the PUK’s retreat and made the re-taking of Kirkuk easier although some PUK units refused orders to stand down and return to KRG territory.
The Iraqi President Abadi said, “We call upon all citizens to co-operate with our heroic armed forces, which are committed to our strict directives to protect civilians in the first place, and to impose security and order, and to protect state installations and institutions.”
One of their first tasks has been to remove Kurdish flags from buildings and institutions The USA has said it supports “joint administration” in Kirkuk but has called for negotiations, as has the UN. Neither recognise the result of the referendum. The Kurdish people have the right to determine their own future, the Iraqi government should immediately withdraw from Kirkuk and negotiate on the basis of recognition of the referendum result.
Turkish forces in Syria against the Kurds
Turkish forces are now undertaking an operation in the Syrian province of Idlib. In agreement with Iran and Russia they are there to enforce a so-called “de-escalation zone”, to seek an end to the fighting.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, are the largest anti-Assad force operating in Idlib. Turkey’s main concern, however, is the neighbouring Kurdish enclave of Afrin. Afrin is under the control of the Kurdish YPG, the largest constituent part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who receive US and coalition support. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported HTS escorting Turkish troops to an area adjoining Afrin. Turkish President Erdogan has said that he will not allow the YPG to form a “terror corridor” to the Mediterranean.