US supports security cooperation between Peshmerga and Iraqi forces

“We always, as a general matter, feel that if the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Government can work more closely together,” that would benefit Iraqis overall.

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – “We always, as a general matter, feel that if the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Government can work more closely together,” that would benefit Iraqis overall, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Tuesday.

Nauert was responding to a question from Kurdistan 24, which began by noting that both Kurdish and Iraqi officials are now warning of the deteriorating security situation around Kirkuk.

Earlier on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi acknowledged that the fight against the Islamic State (IS) continues—despite his claim last December to have defeated IS.

Significantly, Abadi expressed his readiness to coordinate with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the disputed territories. Nauert’s statement suggests that the US would welcome such coordination.

“We are creating security cells under the leadership of the federal government’s Counter Terrorism Forces with the participation of security forces from the Kurdistan Region to fill the security vacuum,” Abadi said.

The Iraqi Prime Minister, thus, implicitly acknowledged that the assault on Kirkuk last October—conducted by regular Iraqi forces, along with Iranian-backed militias and directed by Qassim Soleimani, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force—had generated renewed dangers.

Kurdish officials have repeatedly warned of the growing threat. “Kirkuk is not safe,” Shakhawn Abdullah, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament, told Kurdistan 24 on Monday.

“The areas between Kirkuk and Hawija, previously kept safe by Peshmerga forces, are now open for IS to reemerge,” Abdullah warned.

Michael Pregent, who worked with senior US military officers in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, issued a similar warning at a Hudson Institute seminar on Monday.

Pregent spoke of a “security backslide,” because the pro-Iranian militias that now occupy key areas around Kirkuk and Hawija, are not capable of maintaining security in that territory. It is a Sunni area, and their presence—and abusive actions—are strongly resented.

Or as Pregent put it, they are the “wrong hold force.”

Entifadh Qanbar, an Iraqi-American and head of the Future Foundation in Washington DC, denounced Abadi’s “reckless adventure” in expelling the Peshmerga from Kirkuk.

Qanbar called it “a strategic mistake” that has led to renewed violence and undermined the hard-fought gains against IS.

Deputy Commanding General of Operation Inherent Resolve’s Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command, BG Andrew Croft, however, claimed otherwise.

Asked by Kurdistan 24 at a press briefing on Tuesday whether or not he agreed with those who said the Iraqi attack on Kirkuk had “caused a deterioration in the security situation,” Croft replied, “I disagree.”

The answer was reminiscent of the failure of multiple US spokespersons in the days following the Oct 16 assault on Kirkuk to acknowledge Iran’s role or that of Iranian-backed militias.

Three days later, CIA Director Mike Pompeo became the first US official to publicly acknowledge Tehran’s role—even as other US officials continued to claim they saw no evidence of Iranian involvement.

Similarly, John Bolton, still a private citizen, identified and denounced Iran’s pivotal role, already on Oct 17.

Bolton characterized the assault on Kirkuk as “the Iran-dominated government in Baghdad, along with their regular forces and Shia militias, attacking our allies, the Kurds.”

“We were not paying attention,” even as Soleimani was in Kirkuk, “directing everything,” Bolton complained.

Pompeo is slated to become Secretary of State, although that position requires Senate confirmation. Bolton’s new position, as National Security Adviser, requires no such approval, and he will assume that post on April 9.

The two appointments raise hope that the US will confront more actively the problem of Iranian influence in Iraq, even as that would have been much easier some time ago.