WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) - A bipartisan group of eight US senators on Thursday wrote Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, cautioning him against continuing the aggressive actions that Baghdad has taken against the Kurds since its Oct 16 assault on Kirkuk.
The significance of the eight senators’ letter is heightened by the fact that they sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees the State Department, and the State Department is the lead agency on US policy toward Iraq.
If Abadi ignores the senators, they can take action with the State Department, including asking the Secretary of State to appear before them and answer questions on its Iraq policy.
“We write to emphasize our support for a united, federal, and democratic Iraq,” the letter to Abadi states, “and urge you to work with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to deescalate this dangerous situation.”
While criticizing the KRG’s independence referendum, the letter also explains, “We are mindful of the immense support the KRG has provided over the years, including in counter-ISIS efforts, and we continue to support a strong and autonomous KRG within a unified and federal Iraq.”
Notably, the letter places responsibility on Abadi to take the next step and act on the basis of the position that the KRG has now adopted.
“The KRG has offered to freeze the results of the referendum and engage in negotiations for a path forward,” the letter explains. “We hope you will work with them to resolve this quickly.”
The senators’ position is opposite that of Baghdad, which continues to issue ultimatums to the KRG and place the onus for any further fighting on the Kurds.
The senators also note—and ask Abadi to address—reports of human rights abuses carried out by the Iraqi forces against Kurds and other minorities in Iraq.
“We would like to ensure that these communities are protected and to avoid any further violence that could spiral out of control,” they state.
“The presence of Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in disputed areas—especially the Nineveh Plains—has caused serious concerns, especially in minority communities,” the letter added.
According to the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, over 183,000 civilians have been displaced since the Oct 16 attack on Kirkuk.
“Christians have fled again from the Nineveh Plain,” Loay Mikhael, a Washington DC representative of Iraq’s Christian minorities, explained to Kurdistan 24, citing, in particular, the Iraqi assault on Telskuf.
The senators also protest the ISF’s use of US military equipment in the current fighting.
“We are deeply troubled by the prospect of American-supplied arms being used against Iraqi Kurds or other minority communities,” Senators stated.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, California) spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday, using pictures to illustrate his remarks.
“Here’s an “M-1 Abrams tank, with the Hizbollah flag,” Hunter said. “Here’s the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] commander, Qassim Soleimani, with the militias that we’re equipping, training, and sending into combat.”
Other signatories are Senators Ron Johnson, James Risch, Chris Murphy, Cory Garner, John Barrasso, and Johnny Isakson.
Other congressional criticism of US policy has been stronger than that of the eight senators, including from Hunter and the other Congressmen who spoke on Wednesday.
However, the letter from the senators, who include Marco Rubio (R, Florida) and Tim Kaine (D, Virginia), Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 elections, carries more political weight, because they are in a position to start asking the State Department to answer questions about its Iraq policy.
Notably, the State Department has seemed reluctant to address such questions and criticize the Abadi government publicly.
On Tuesday, Kurdistan24 asked the Department’s Spokesperson a series of questions about recent Iraqi actions, including the brutal murder of a Kurdistan TV cameraman, Arkan Sharif, in his home outside Kirkuk.
The PMF appear responsible for the murder, particularly as Sharif’s killers left a knife in his mouth as if to signal their motive while intimidating other journalists in the areas they have recently seized.
None of Kurdistan 24’s questions, however, elicited any clear criticism of Baghdad from the State Department.
Editing by Sam A.