Qais Al-Khazali, leader of the Shiite Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia. Photo: AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – After ISIS, Kurds are Iraq’s biggest problem, said a Shiite militia leader.
In an interview with a local Iraqi TV station, Qais Al-Khazali, leader of the Shiite Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia, made the inflammatory statement against the Kurdish region saying, “After ISIS, Kurds are the greatest problem, especially Mr. Masoud Barzani. And solving the problems or peace with them is impossible.”
Khazali noted that “it is very unlikely that a decisive peaceful project with the Kurds will happen.”
He believes Kurds have annexed territories during the fight against ISIS. A logical solution, he explained, is for Kurds “to return to the pre-2003 borders.”
As a Shiite Iraqi leader, he claimed, he will not accept “the status quo” Kurds have been talking about regarding territories they have brought under their control.
“I do not agree with any territory that Kurds have annexed under the imposing politics of status quo,” he stressed.
Peshmerga have liberated large swathes of territory from ISIS in their fight against the militants since mid-2014, stirring up heated debates between Kurds and Shiites in Iraq as Kurdish leaders have said several times that the Peshmerga will not withdraw from these territories.
Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani stated this position outright in the wake of the liberation of Bashiqa last month. He said that Kurdish forces would not withdraw from lands they reclaimed from ISIS before the start of the Mosul operation last month, and explained that this was agreed on with the American and Iraqi governments.
“We have a deal with America, between the Pentagon and the Peshmerga ministry -- and with the Iraqi government -- that the defense lines before the Mosul operation are non-negotiable,” Barzani declared. “Our only goal is to protect the security of people in these areas and for the Peshmerga to back it. We will never ever again let you be displaced and you can count on us for that,” he said in comments directed at Iraq’s Kurds.
“Almost all Kurdish areas have been cleared of ISIS terrorists.”
In response to Khazali’s comments, Kamal Kirkuki, commander of the Peshmerga forces in western Kirkuk, told Rudaw that the Kurdistan Region’s boundaries are clear as they were forcefully taken away from the region and linked to other parts of Iraq in the past.
“The borders of the Kurdistan Region are apparent. This land was forcefully linked to the Arabic Iraq when the great Kurdistan was partitioned,” said Kirkuki, exclaiming that “since then, Kurds have not rested as they endured much suffering, including Anfal, chemical attacks, and ethnic cleansing.”
“Iraq has never been united,” Kirkuki added.
He agreed with Khazali that there has to be a logical solution. But he believes that “everybody should live in his home. Shiites in Shiitestan, Kurds in Kurdistan, and Sunnis in Sunnistan. This way, we could be good neighbors.”
He strongly rejected the Shiite leader’s claims, saying “Kurds are not a threat to anybody.” There is nothing to be gained by threatening the Kurds, he said.
Since ISIS swept across Iraq in June 2014, taking over Mosul and other territories left undefended by fleeing Iraqi forces, the Peshmerga have pushed the militants out of many of those territories, mainly in so-called “disputed areas” that were claimed by both the federal government in Baghdad and the autonomous KRG.