Iraqi forces advance towards the center of Kirkuk during an operation against Kurdish Peshmerga forces on October 16, 2017. Iraqi forces seized the Kirkuk governor's office, key military sites and an oil field as they swept across the disputed province following soaring tensions over the independence referendum. Photo: AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - The vice president of Kurdistan and deputy leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in a strongly worded statement denounced those among the PUK who ordered the withdrawal of the Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk, which eventually led to the city’s control by Iraqi forces and the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces.
“What is happening is another Anfal against Kurds,” said Kosrat Rasul Ali. “What really deepens the wound is some apostates abandoned the PUK’s doctrine without returning to our party’s leadership and became the invaders’ assistant to obtain some personal, temporary gains. With this disgusting act, they are slipping themselves into the black pages of the history of our nation, humiliated.”
Other senior members of the PUK have dismissed claims in Kurdish media of an ordered withdrawal.
Ali, a veteran Peshmerga commander who brought thousands of troops to Kirkuk, called on the Kurdistan Region’s political parties to put order back into Kurdish houses and learn a lesson from the events.
“Unity is the only way to empower our struggle,” Ali said.
Ali added that the Kurdistan Region expected the “international community, our friends and allies in the world and the region to honor our nation and listen to us to build a bright future for our future generations.”
“But unfortunately, they instead all collectively stood against us once again proving the fact that the Kurdish nation has no friends but the mountains,” Ali said.
The Kurdish vice president added “leaving our nation in limbo to the onslaught and attacks of the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militia and Iraqi army units in the past days’ events in Kirkuk and Kurdistani areas, massacring Kurdish people in Tuz Khurmatu and other areas, expelling, burning down and looting their houses and properties has no other meaning but the beginning of launching another Anfal against Kurds on their ancestral lands.”
The head of the PUK in Kirkuk, Aso Mamand, told reporters in Sulaimani on Wednesday that “some Hashd al-Shaabi gangsters have stormed Kurdish houses,” but described the situation as generally “calm.”
When ISIS threatened to overrun all of northern Iraq in 2014, Kurdish Peshmerga fought against ISIS extremists who were better armed, which prompted the United States to provide air cover. Washington's hardline rhetoric towards Iran has contradicted with the Kirkuk by Hashd, who Baghdad admits are advised by Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's Quds Force.
Ali recalled that “the Kurdistan nation stood against the most barbaric terrorist group for three years and put a stop to their disgusting plots on behalf of the world’s peaceful humanity.”
“Although the damages, in terms of losing national achievements are very heavy and the PUK naive [members] are to blame for all the calamities which took place in Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu, including the loss of lives and material damages,” said Ali, adding the Kurdistan nation is familiar with such failures and that standing up again “is not hard work.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in an address on Tuesday night that the only casualties occurred in Tuz Khurmatu.
General Commander of the Peshmerga Forces and President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani also criticized a number of PUK leaders for pulling out Peshmerga forces in several positions to let the advancing Iraqi troops enter the city of Kirkuk in a Tuesday statement. Barzani is the leader of the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
It was reported by Kurdish media outlets, including Rudaw, that three leading figures of the late Jalal Talabani family including Bafel Talabani, Lahur Talabany, and Aras Sheikh Jangi had ordered Peshmerga forces of the PUK at several key positions to withdraw and let the Shiite forces and Iraqi army take them over.
But, Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, a senior leader of the PUK and the mother of Bafel Talabani, dismissed claims in a statement following the incidents in Kirkuk saying her family members who wield immense power within the PUK, did not order Peshmerga forces to withdraw from several key areas in south Kirkuk in the face of the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi.
Bafel Talabani in a televised address on October 12 called on the Kurdish and Iraqi government to jointly, as a temporary measure, administer the disputed areas. He said that the Kurdish and Iraqi forces are “on the specter of war. A war we do not need, a war we do not want.”
Barzani said in his statement on Tuesday that “what happened in Kirkuk city was the result of unilateral decisions of some people within a certain internal political party of Kurdistan, which eventually led to the withdrawal of the Peshmerga forces, as was seen."
He also advocated “for the protection of the unity and resilience of the Kurdistan nation and the political parties.”
Iraqi forces, which include the US-trained Counter Terrorism Service and the Iranian-backed Hashd came into Peshmerga-controlled areas south and west of Kirkuk on Sunday at midnight. Monday afternoon, Iraqi forces entered the city of Kirkuk and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi forces to take down the Kurdistan flag in the disputed areas and hoist only the Iraqi banner.
On Tuesday, Iraqi forces continued their advances, taking control of Khanaqin in Diyala province, Shingal and Bashiqa in Mosul.
In a statement on Tuesday night, the Peshmerga Ministry said the borders between the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces will be as they were the day before the Mosul operation began last year.
The actions by the Iraqi forces ordered by Abadi follows weeks of punitive measures taken by Baghdad against Kurdistan in response to the September 25 independence referendum that saw 92.7 percent of people voting to leave Iraq, despite Iraqi opposition.
Kirkuk is a disputed city claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution called for a referendum to be held in the disputed areas by 2017; however, it was never implemented.
last updated at 5:14 p.m.