WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – The US-led coalition has issued a statement on Thursday on the reported redeployment of forces to K-1 military base, near Kirkuk.
A significant number of troops arrived there on Tuesday evening, according to local sources.
The statement from CENTCOM’s Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), issued on Thursday morning and e-mailed to Kurdistan 24, neither confirmed nor denied the reports.
“For operational security reasons, we do not publicly announce specific movements of Coalition forces in theater,” CJTF-OIR’s statement began.
It then specified the circumstances under which such a movement might have occurred.
“Any redistribution of forces in Iraq is coordinated with our Iraqi hosts and is based on operational requirements,” CJTF-OIR said.
“As ISIS continues to lose territory in Iraq and major operations decrease, the Coalition will tailor how we support the Iraqi Security Forces,” the statement continued.
“The fight against [the Islamic State (IS)] is not over,” it noted. “[IS] terrorists that remain in Iraq will seek to sow fear among the Iraqi population through isolated attacks.”
Reports are emerging of armed groups forming in the wake of the Oct. 16 attack by Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias on Kirkuk, Khurmatu, and other disputed areas.
A Kurdistan 24 team reporting from Ghara Mountain, between the Peshmerga front lines and those of the Iraqi army and Shia militias, discovered that some 500 to 600 Sunni fighters were operating in the area, generating fear among local villagers.
The State Department, which is formally responsible for mediating between Erbil and Baghdad, is loath to publicly criticize the Abadi government and has adopted a low-key approach toward resolving tensions.
But one price of such caution seems to be very limited results.
Indeed, on Wednesday, former US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, asked in a tweet, “Why is Iraq persisting with punitive measures against Kurdistan?”
“They are unjustified. The US, which wants a strong KRG, must press Baghdad,” Khalilzad continued.
The longer tensions persist between Erbil and Baghdad, the greater the opportunity for armed groups, such as described by Kurdistan 24, to emerge.
Iraqi MP Mohammed Othman, who claimed that US forces had returned to K-1, said that they would help maintain security, adding that a “joint operations room, comprising all of Kirkuk’s military and security forces” would be established and that Kurds would “actively” participate.
However, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command issued a statement Thursday morning, denying that any such coalition movements had taken place.
Editing by Nadia Riva