Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. AP file photo
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A former American ambassador to Iraq has called for the US to act in order to prevent possible conflict between Kurds and Iraqis, which he alleged was being stirred up under Iran’s influence.
Responding on Twitter to news Wednesday night that Iraqi forces, including the Iranian-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, were preparing for a “major attack” on Kurdistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Iraq, said Iranian Quds commander Qassem Soleimani is in Iraq, pushing the Shiite forces to attack Kirkuk.
“Active US engagement needed to prevent conflict,” he stated.
Khalilzad served as US ambassador to Iraq from 2005 to 2007, after which he was named ambassador to the UN, serving until 2009.
Wednesday evening, the Kurdistan Region Security Council announced they had received “dangerous messages” that Iraqi forces and the Hashd al-Shaabi were preparing “major attacks” against Kurdistan.
Kurdish politician Hoshiyar Zebari, the former Iraqi finance and foreign minister, confirmed to Rudaw that they had seen “abnormal movements” of the Hashd in the Hawija and Mosul areas towards Peshmerga-held territory.
A Shabak activist group said Wednesday evening they had seen “large movements” of Hashd al-Shaabi forces in Mosul and its eastern suburb Gogjali “for unknown reasons.”
Rudaw cannot independently confirm that Qassem Soleimani is in Iraq, as Khalilzad alleged, but the Quds commander was spotted in Iraq several times during the war against ISIS.
The US is being challenged to check growing Iranian influence in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Drafts amending the law that requires US Donald Trump to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal also include measures on Iranian activities throughout the region, according the Associated Press.
Trump is due to make a speech on Iran this week.
Following Kurdistan’s September 25 independence referendum, the Iraqi parliament called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to deploy forces to disputed areas, which include Kirkuk and areas of Nineveh province.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in a statement directed at Abadi, said they would hold him responsible for any clashes after he has made several comments warning the Peshmerga not to deter activities of Iraqi forces in disputed areas.
Despite the unwavering stances taken publicly on all sides, Zebari told Rudaw on Wednesday that the Kurdish leadership are engaged in talks with several countries, including the US, Turkey, and indeed Baghdad.