KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region – A Peshmerga commander has rejected reports of US helicopters landing near Kirkuk and delivering aid to ISIS as mere “propaganda”, accusing the media outlet that first reported the alleged incident of having served the “interests of ISIS”.
The US-led Global Coalition called the allegations “absurd and crazy.”
Wasta Rasul, the Peshmerga commander of Kirkuk’s southern operations front, told reporters on Friday that the helicopters were Iraqi operating in cooperation with the American military and that they carried out a “successful operation”.
Rasul was responding to a news report from the Sulaimani-based Kurdish NRT TV earlier this week which said that seven helicopters had landed in ISIS-held areas, one of which believed to be Chinook. The channel said that only the US and the Turkish militaries in the region have such helicopters.
“It was revealed that these helicopters were Iraqis," working under the name of the joint Iraqi and American operations, Rasul maintained, adding that they belonged to Iraq’s Joint Command carrying a “successful operation” in the area.
He also claimed that the video obtained by the TV channel belonged to an earlier and different date and the landings had taken place Sueidiya village northeast of Tikrit 40 kilometers from the Peshmerga lines and only 4 kilometers away from the Iraqi forces.
Sueidiya village is not within administrative boundaries of Kirkuk, Rasul said.
Rasul praised the American contribution to the fight against ISIS in Iraq and expressed disbelief that the TV channel questioned the sincerity of the US military.
“Every one of these American sons have fought with their own hands in this war [against ISIS],” and then the channel came out to accuse these forces, Rasul said.
He said “propaganda” published by the enemy does not hurt as much as that done by the Kurdish media.
He did not name NRT per se, but claimed that “a Kurdish channel is helping the interests of our enemy which is ISIS.”
Based on videos obtained by the Kurdish channel, some of which claimed to have been captured by Peshmerga cameras near Kirkuk, and eyewitnesses that the channel did not disclose, NRT reported on Thursday that seven helicopters landed near Peshmerga lines, including a heavy-lift Chinook suggesting that they may have delivered supplies to the extremist group.
“On 25, 27, and 28, seven helicopters landed in three ISIS-held areas in Iraq three times,” NRT reported, adding that since there were no confirmation or denial by either the Iraqi or Kurdish authorities, it left room for two hypotheses:
Based on the place in question and the type of the helicopters, NRT argued, they could be from the Turkish military as they have forces stationed in Kurdistan, or from the United States as they have a military air base in Hariri, northeast of Erbil.
NRT claimed that there was no denial despite the fact that it had quoted Hiwa Abdullah, Rasul’s deputy that the helicopters did not land in Kirkuk.
NRT claimed that they tried to visit the place where the helicopters were said to have landed, but that the Peshmerga forces denied them access.
It reported that on 25 June, the 7 helicopters were seen near Zarga, close to Tuz Khurmatu where ISIS has recently carried out several deadly attacks against the Peshmerga, and two days later near Sueidiya village, then on June 28 near Hawija.
In one video released by NRT, it shows some men who appear to be Peshmerga, and speak Kurdish, the men are shown briefly looking the helicopter from a distance, one of them heard saying that the helicopters are “American”.
Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesperson for the US-led anti-ISIS coalition told Rudaw Friday that “those helicopters were not on missions that were executed by the coalition.”
“I have seen reports that are absolutely absurd and crazy that make allegations and accusations that we are supplying Daesh in these areas, and that is completely false. We are here for one, and only one reason – that is to defeat Daesh,” Col. Dillon continued using a different name for ISIS.
Asked about the specific dates as mentioned in media reports, he only said that the coalition did not have any missions in or around Kirkuk or Hawija in the last 24 or 48 hours.
Rasool, the Peshmerga commander, threatened to respond with “martial law” against media channels if they did not seek a comment from the top Peshmerga commanders regarding activities in their fronts.
“At times of war, we the Peshmerga force have the right to use some martial laws,” Rasul said in threatening language. “From now and on, any channel that does not seek the comment of the first military commander of a given front they report on, we certainly take procedures against them, harsh procedures. They should not be unhappy if we say that we will deploy Peshmerga against them.”
Rasul also denied ISIS having been preparing for an assault to take control of the oil-rich Kirkuk, a city that has been under the de-facto control of the Peshmerga forces since 2014, describing it rumors and the work of the “fifth column.”