ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdish Peshmerga and the people of the province and city of Kirkuk are on high alert as Iraqi Forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias mobilized to the outskirts of the Kurdistan Regional Government-administered (KRG) areas.
The move is seen as yet another escalation in the retaliatory measures taken by the Iraqi Federal Government against the Kurdistan Region Sep. 25 referendum on independence.
“We are alarmed by the significant Iraqi military and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) build up in Bashir and Taz, south of Kirkuk, including tanks, heavy artillery, humvees, and mortars. These forces are approximately 3 kilometers from Peshmerga front line positions. Intelligence shows intent to take over nearby oil fields, airport, and military base,” the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) stated Friday early morning.
“We call on the Iraqi Government to stop the PMF aggression in Kirkuk and North Mosul. This reckless, provocative move follows Iraq's air embargo, which suspended international flights [over the Kurdistan Region], and other measures amounting to collective punishment on the people of Kurdistan,” the statement added.
The KRSC emphasized the Kurdistan Region’s call for peaceful dialogue with Baghdad to resolve its disputes with Erbil, and urged the international community to denounce the military deployment of Iraqi security forces to the borders of the Kurdistan Region.
In a statement to Kurdistan 24 from the Kirkuk front line, Governor Najmaldin Karim said that war was not in the interest of anyone, but cautioned that the people of Kirkuk “have the right to defend themselves if attacked.”
Peshmerga senior commanders, including the vice-President of the Kurdistan Region, Kosrat Rasool, are “all on the front lines, ready to defend Kirkuk” and “respond to any possible attacks,” according to the Kurdish Governor.
Karim addressed a large number of Kirkuk volunteers present on the Region's perimeter, weapons in hand and prepared to “fight alongside the Peshmerga forces.”
“Every member of Kirkuk's ethnic and religious community has been living in peace under the protection of Peshmerga Forces since mid-2014. We have to help them by protecting this land,” an armed volunteer told Kurdistan 24.
The Iranian-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militia, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), mobilized to the south of Kirkuk. In some areas, only a few kilometers stand between them and the Peshmerga Forces.
Thousands of heavily armed Pehsmerge units are now completely in their positions around Kirkuk.Their order is to defend at any cost. We call upon intl community to intervene, call @HaiderAlAbadi to order PMF to pull back if he can or if they listen to him. pic.twitter.com/R9g8hJJL9t— Hemin Hawrami (@heminhawrami) October 13, 2017
Iraqi Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi recently called on the KRG to hand over disputed territories to Baghdad, including the oil-rich, mixed province of Kirkuk.
On Thursday, he asserted the central government of Iraq had no intention of attacking the Kurdistan Region and “its Kurdish citizens.”
“Following their rise in northern Iraq in mid-2014, the Islamic State (IS) also declared they would not attack the Kurdistan Region, but we saw what happened later,” another volunteer told Kurdistan 24.
“We should be all prepared regardless of what the Iraqi government says,” he warned.
Editing by G.H. Renaud