ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – United States Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Tuesday condemned the recent violence by Iraqi forces against Peshmerga troops in Kirkuk, adding to the growing list of US Congressmen who have called for a de-escalation of violence between Erbil and Baghdad.
In an official statement, Rubio expressed his grave concerns “to see Iraqi military forces [and Kurdish Peshmerga] firing on each other in Kirkuk.”
The Senator stressed the importance of dialogue between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central government of Iraq following increased tensions in the aftermath of Kurdistan’s Sep. 25 independence referendum.
Rubio’s remarks have added significance, as he sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees the US State Department.
He urged both Erbil and Baghdad to focus on the fight against the Islamic State (IS) as the extremist group approaches its defeat in the region.
“The United States strongly supports both the Iraqi central government in Baghdad and the [KRG] in our fight to free the people of Iraq from the horrors of [IS],” he said.
“These hostilities are divisive at exactly a time when unity is needed to finish the fight against [IS],” Rubio continued. “I call on all parties to cease hostilities and return to dialogue.”
The Senator from Florida also pointed to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq, particularly the Iranian regime’s funding and support for crucial elements of the Shia militia, or Hashd al-Shaabi, their Arabic name.
The Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was officially included as part of the Iraqi army following the emergence of IS in mid-2014, but Iran controls key units.
Rubio warned of Iran’s desire “to see infighting in Iraq,” adding that “it’s clear that no good comes from the involvement of these Shia militias, whose loyalties lie to Iran, not Iraq.”
“We cannot forget the Iranian regime provides cash, weapons, training, and military orders to Shia militias that are right now near Kirkuk,” he noted.
On Monday, both PMF and Iraqi forces took control of Kirkuk, which has been under the protection of Peshmerga since mid-2014 after the Iraqi army collapsed and failed to defend the city from IS.
Editing by Laurie Mylroie