Iraqi army reinforcements drive down a road, linking Hawija to Kirkuk, near the village of Khabbaz on October 7, 2017. Photo: AFP /Marwan Ibrahim
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The US-led Global Coalition that supports the Iraqi security forces in their war against ISIS has stated that their Iraqi partners are shifting their forces “en masse” from Hawija, southwest of Kirkuk, to the Anbar province, in western Iraq, just a day after Erbil accused Baghdad of preparing to attack Peshmerga-controlled areas in Kirkuk and Mosul, in light of the controversial Kurdish vote on independence.
Brett McGurk, the US Special Presidential Envoy to the war on ISIS, said in a tweet Thursday evening that the Iraqi forces are heading to Anbar to drive out the ISIS militants near the Syrian border, after the liberation of Hawija, about 55 km southwest of the Kurdish controlled oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
“Iraqi forces today shifting [en masse] from the Hawija front to west Anbar to liberate Rawa, Qaim and secure Iraq's borders with Syria,” McGurk said.
The announcement comes as the Kurdistan Region’s Security Council claimed on Wednesday that they received “dangerous messages” that the Iraqi forces, including the Iranian-backed mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, were preparing a “major attack” against Kurdish-controlled areas south and west of Kirkuk, as well as north of Mosul.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in a separate statement warned that “Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is to blame for any disputes or violence which may erupt in disputed areas.”
Iraqi PM Abadi said on Thursday that Baghdad will not fight against Kurds, adding that their duty is to preserve the unity and integrity of the country.
“We will not use our army against our people or fight a war against our Kurdish and other citizens,” Abadi said in a large-scale meeting with Anbar province’s local authorities. Portions of Anbar province remain one of the last territories still under control of ISIS after the group was defeated this year in Mosul, Tal Afar, and Hawija.
Abadi on Tuesday warned the Peshmerga against any “confrontation” with Iraqi security forces, including the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, in the disputed areas, while calling on the Kurdish fighters to act on orders from the Iraqi government, as there should be “one leadership, not two.”
The Global Coalition works with Peshmerga through Baghdad
Iraq’s Abadi, who has passed many punitive measures against the Kurdistan Region in response to the Kurdish independence referendum held on September 25, including a ban on direct international flights to Kurdistan, stated on Tuesday that the anti-ISIS Global Coalition is willing to leave any part of Iraq, including Kurdistan, if requested by Baghdad.
The Coalition said that it has not discussed with the Iraqi government
the possibility of moving their forces from certain locations. They are, however, making preparations in case conflict does occur as tensions ratchet up following Kurdistan’s vote for independence.
Speaking to Rudaw on a separate occasion, the spokesperson for the Global Coalition Colonel Ryan Dillon said that there have not been any discussions regarding the “discontinuation” of their training or cooperation in Iraq.
“The Coalition will continue to work with and train Peshmerga forces through the permission of the government of Iraq,” Col. Dillon said, as he stressed that their task and focus in Iraq is to defeat ISIS.