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Peshmerga, Kurdish security forces to return to Kirkuk under US auspices

By Nawzad Mahmoud 3/4/2018
The Flag of Kurdistan flies on the outskirkts of Kikruk in October 2017. Photo: Ahmed al-Rubaye | AFP
The Flag of Kurdistan flies on the outskirkts of Kikruk in October 2017. Photo: Ahmed al-Rubaye | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Due to the increasing ISIS movements in Kirkuk province, the United States has pressured Iraq to allow Peshmerga forces to return, but Erbil and Baghdad are at odds with respect to the return mechanism, said a PUK official.

Rawand Mullah Mahmood, a PUK official in Kirkuk, told Rudaw that Americans are eager to see Peshmerga have returned to Kirkuk, so do Baghdad.

"This is because they are afraid of the growing ISIS threats," Mahmood said.

A Kurdish MP in Baghdad said once the Peshmerga has returned, Asayesh (Kurdish security units) will also return to the city administrated by the central government.

The question of the normalization of Kirkuk's situation has not brought Kurdish parties together as they continue to blame one another for the loss of Kirkuk on October 16 to the Iraqi army supported by Iran-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries.

But now Americans have taken the matter into their hands, not allowing the re-emergence of ISIS in the province, a source told Rudaw, adding the US officials have already met with Erbil and Baghdad officials on this matter.

ISIS has increased its activities in the area, carrying out daily kidnappings and killings, according to Jabar Yawar, Secretary-General of the Peshmerga ministry.

"The situation has deteriorated to the level that the road between Kirkuk and Baghdad and Diyala and Baghdad is being closed in the evenings," Yawar told reporters on Tuesday.

Acting Peshmerga Minister Karim Sinjari held meetings with two separate delegations from the UK and the US in which they discussed the situation in the disputed areas, Yawar detailed.

Speaking about the Joint Security Mechanism that existed between Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the disputed areas of Diyala, Kirkuk, and Nineveh before 2014, Yawar said, “We used to have joint coordination bases, joint checkpoints, joint forces, joint operation, and joint patrols between the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army. As the ministry, Mr. Minister [Sinjari] expressed readiness to again begin this process. It remains for the Coalition side to talk to the federal side on this issue."

He described the Iraqi decision to end the Joint Security Mechanism with the Peshmerga in the disputed areas as a "big mistake," adding that the facts on the ground prove that the two sides must cooperate.

Mohammed Haji Mahmood, the head of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party and a veteran Peshmerga who lost a son to the fight against ISIS in Kirkuk, has associated the return of the Peshmerga to Kirkuk to the condition that it would help current Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi gain support in parliamentary elections on May 12.

"The Americans do not want Abadi lose in the elections, as they are afraid of [Nouri al-Maliki] and Hadi al-Amiri, supported by Iran," he claimed.

Maliki is running on a separate ticket from his successor, Abadi. When the two Dawa Party members announced their split, they also said they would come together after elections to build a coalition.

Mahmood described the return of Kurdish forces to Kirkuk as psychologically important, but not if it’s done in this way.

"Any area you lose during battles, you must retake them with battles, not through negotiation," Mahmood said. "Because at that time, they cannot impose what they want on you."

Even after the independence referendum, the US State Department has continued to consider the disputed areas like Kirkuk as disputed, citing the constitution as the roadmap to resolving all outstanding issues between Baghdad and Erbil.

According to information Rudaw has obtained, in the meetings between Erbil and Baghdad, the KRG has insisted that Peshmerga forces have to return with heavy weapons, and not just to execute orders from the central government.

Mohammed Dushiwani, a PUK MP in the Iraqi parliament who is knowledgeable of the ongoing talks, told Rudaw there are just a few points which both sides don’t agree on.

"Baghdad and the Iraqi army have understood that ISIS poses threat to the triangle of Tikrit - Diyala - Kirkuk and that the federal forces cannot secure these areas, therefore they need the Peshmerga," Dushiwani said.

Dushiwani added he talked to Brig. Gen. Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah, the deputy commander of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command on the matter of the Peshmerga's return.

Dushiwani said he was told by Yarallah that they both have ISIS as a common enemy and they must fight together and coordinate operations.

Concerning the matter of the redeployment of Asayesh forces alike to Kirkuk, Dushiwani said "Peshmerga and Asayesh are one force. Thus, we dare say if the Peshmerga returns, Asayesh will also come back."

Mahmood, the PUK official in Kirkuk, said a joint operations center would be set up in Kirkuk.

"Baghdad had initially asked for a joint security center to be established, but we had asked only for joint operations center to be set up," Rawad Mullah Mahmood said, adding Baghdad now will not have a problem "for a joint operations command to be established.”

A joint security would include the Asayesh, something the Kurds have not wanted.

If the Peshmerga Ministry agrees to form a joint security center, then Peshmerga forces will have to take orders from Baghdad, but in the case of a joint operations center, the situation will go back to how it looked like before ISIS.

Before the October 16 events, 30 Peshmerga brigades had been stationed in Kirkuk and its surroundings.

"The return of the Peshmerga means the redeployment of these Peshmerga Ministry brigades," Rawand said.

Since October 16, there have been many security situations in the diverse province including killings, explosions, kidnappings, and nighttime shootings. Prior to Abadi’s declaration of a victory over ISIS, Kurdish security officials warned of an ISIS resurgence or evolution that would necessitate a Peshmerga return.


Correction: A previous version of this story stated Maliki's election list would not run in Kirkuk. The three provinces where Maliki will not have a list of candidates are Nineveh, Diyala, and Saladin.

Last updated at 10:09 p.m. to add comments by Jabar Yawar, the Peshmerga official. 

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