ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – A group within the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) planned to ‘surrender’ Sulaimani and the entire Kurdistan Region to Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias, similar to the ‘surrender’ of Kirkuk on Oct. 16, a Peshmerga Commander asserted on Wednesday.
“There is a group of people in the PUK that colluded with the Iraqi government and the Hashd al-Shaabi to surrender Sulaimani, Erbil, and Duhok, just like how they surrendered Kirkuk on Oct. 16,” Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, a prominent Peshmerga Commander from the PUK, told VOA.
On Oct. 16, Iraqi troops alongside Shia militias attacked and took over Kirkuk province without facing much resistance from the Peshmerga forces. The area had been under the protection of the Kurdish forces since 2014 following the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) and the collapse of the Iraqi army.
Kirkuk was a stronghold of the PUK, where the party enjoyed widespread support. Following the fall of the province, the Kurdish leadership and PUK officials accused certain PUK leaders of cooperating with Iraqi forces and making a unilateral decision to withdraw the Peshmerga, a move they labeled “treason” and a “betrayal.”
“The recent protests in cities in Sulaimani were orchestrated by those specific PUK officials who were seeking to incite riots and instability, providing the Iraqi army and Hashd al-Shaabi with an excuse to enter Sulaimani and the entire Kurdistan Region under the pretense of national security,” Mustafa said.
Protests turned violent as rioters set fire to government and party offices in cities across the Kurdistan Region, mainly in and around the Sulaimani province. Demonstrators called for salary delays and the shortage of public services to be resolved, and for reforms in the government.
Many political analysts and Kurdish officials gathered there was a group involved in the protests aiming to appropriate of the demonstrations to push forward an agenda hostile to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Most fingers pointed to Jalal Talabani’s son, Pavel Talabani, who holds no official political post within the PUK, and Lahur Sheikh Jangi, the head of the PUK’s counter-terrorism unit.
“We absolutely support the demands of the people…The deployment of security forces to contain the escalating violence was at the request of the cities’ security commissions. Based on their requests as well, security forces were later evacuated,” the Peshmerga Commander explained.
Mustafa revealed some agents embedded themselves among the demonstrators to influence the protest. He likened it to an “attempted coup by some elements of the PUK.”
“There is a direction in the PUK that a number of party members, and even some regional countries, support,” which is to allow Iraqi forces and Shia militias to enter the Kurdistan Region, Mustafa said without giving further details.
“Unfortunately, I can’t reveal their names because, as it often is during hard times and for the sake of national security, we must cover up the betrayal of others. But as I said, it was not ordinary people who turned the demonstrations to violence and caused riots in Sulaimani and other areas, but a group of PUK leaders who led Kirkuk to its Oct. 16 fate.”
He explained that some PUK leaders, outside of the PUK politburo and leadership council, used their power and influence to make unilateral decisions, without the consent of the PUK leadership.
According to Mustafa, the group is using the party to serve their interests knowing nobody in the PUK would be able to investigate them.
“They are cooperating with Iraqi forces and the Hashd al-Shaabi to consolidate their power and gain full control over the PUK,” he stated.
“The Kurdistan Region will continue to be under serious threat as long as the traitorous group within the PUK endures. Their complicity with Baghdad continues, and they wish to surrender the entire Kurdistan Region to Iraqi forces, destroying Kurdistan’s achievements.”
“Once the Kurdistan Region’s hardships come to an end, and a national court is established, the PUK betrayers, like any other traitor in the world, should be put on trial,” he continued.
“If they had committed such treason during our previous fight against the Iraqi government while in the mountains, they would have been executed. If Mam Jalal [Talabani, former PUK leader, and ex-Iraqi President] were alive now, he would have punished the traitors,” Mustafa concluded.
The PUK has been facing internal turmoil since the passing of its leader, Jalal Talabani.
Editing by Nadia Riva