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Author Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR  (Read 172027 times)
Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1000 on: October 09, 2017, 06:19:09 PM »

Iraq Invites Its Own Demise
Oct 9, 2017
By Jacob L. Shapiro

As the political organization of the Middle East continues to deteriorate, some countries are starting to form new relationships with old enemies. Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid an official visit to Iran, a regional competitor that has backed different militant groups in the Syrian war. In a joint press conference after the meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Turkey, Iran and Iraq will work together to ensure that the region’s political borders do not change. The following day, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Iraq had officially requested that both Turkey and Iran close border crossings and halt all commercial transactions with Iraq’s Kurdish region after Kurds there voted in favor of independence in a referendum last month. The disarray in Iraq has gotten so bad that Baghdad is looking to Turkey and Iran for help controlling its Kurdish population.

Strange Bedfellows

The notion that these three countries would find common cause on any subject is counterintuitive. Turkey and Iraq have been at each other’s throats in recent years, and as recently as December 2015, they were involved in a protracted diplomatic spat over Turkish deployment of troops and armor in Iraq without the permission of the government. The Turkish troops were there ostensibly to help train Kurdish peshmerga to fight the Islamic State. Turkey also routinely bombs militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – Turkey’s own Kurdish rebel movement – in northern Iraq without permission from Iraqi authorities. In effect, Turkey is announcing its intention to help defend the territorial integrity of a country whose integrity it regularly violates.

Turkey and Iran are also strange bedfellows. Though there has been no open antagonism between the two countries of late, both aspire to regional hegemony in the Middle East, and their long-term interests are mutually exclusive. They, for example, support rival groups in the Syrian civil war. Turkey has long opposed the Assad regime and has supported, with limited success, rebel groups of various stripes since the war broke out. Iran, meanwhile, has long been an ally of the Assad regime, which was a critical part of its strategy to forge alliances with a string of states and militant groups that allowed it to project power all the way to the Mediterranean. Tehran also put pressure on its proxy group Hezbollah to commit itself to fighting Assad’s would-be usurpers.
 
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C) walks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C-R) during an official welcoming ceremony following the latter’s arrival at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran on April 7, 2015. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
As for Iraq’s relationship with Iran, that is even more complicated. On the one hand, Shiite-majority Iran has developed a close relationship with Baghdad since Saddam Hussein’s Sunni, Baathist regime, which severely persecuted Shiites, was deposed. On the other hand, there is a deep level of enmity between Arabs and Persians that stretches back many centuries. That is why Iraq and Saudi Arabia have sought to bury the hatchet in recent months. Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iraq in 1990 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but efforts to repair the relationship seem to be working. A visit by influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to Riyadh in August was just the latest in a series of meetings aimed at creating a more cooperative relationship between Baghdad and Riyadh. Shortly after al-Sadr’s trip, Saudi Arabia and Iraq announced they would open the Tal Afar border crossing, which had been closed for 27 years, for trade.

The Kurdish Issue

The most surprising thing in all these complex relationships is that Iraq – once a major Arab power in the Middle East – has become so weak that it is reaching out to Turks and Persians to help solve its internal problems, particularly when it comes to Iraqi Kurdish aspirations for independence. From Iraq’s perspective, the enemy of its enemy is its friend, and both Turkey and Iran have taken a hard stance against their respective Kurdish populations. The regime in Baghdad doesn’t want the country to break apart, but it’s happening nonetheless. The independence vote in Iraqi Kurdistan is not a declaration of independence, but that’s only because the region knows that if it declares independence, it may very well be wiped off the map. It may not face a significant threat from Baghdad – the government there can’t even keep its own house in order – but Turkey and Iran border Iraqi Kurdistan and do not want to see the rise of an independent Kurdish state, albeit for different reasons. And the Iraqi Kurds don’t even have the support of the U.S. – which opposed the referendum – or any other foreign power on the independence issue.

Turkey’s major concern is that allowing Iraqi Kurds to declare independence could set a precedent for the region. Iran is concerned about this as well, but the bigger issue for Tehran is maintaining its relationship with Baghdad. Despite the ethnic differences between Iraq and Iran, Tehran hopes that the fact that they are both Shiite countries will be enough, over time, to forge a strong alliance between Iraq and Iran. Baghdad wants to keep its country together, and if Iran can show Baghdad that it can depend on Tehran in its hour of need, it could help make the Iraqi-Iranian relationship that much stronger.

The trouble for Iraq is that these relationships are not going to remain at the bilateral level. Turkey held military drills on the Iraqi Kurdish border the week before the referendum as a show of force and support for Baghdad’s position. Shortly after the referendum, Iranian tanks approached the Iraqi Kurdish border in Tehran’s own show of force, which was reportedly part of a military drill with Iraqi forces. But Turkey and Iran also appear to be building closer ties with each other – ties that do not include Iraq. The two sides have shown the ability to cooperate in the past, most recently by coordinating their efforts in Syria. But the rare meeting between Turkish and Iranian leaders and the prospect of military cooperation represents a step beyond previous levels of cooperation.

Their alliance can’t hold in the long term, but their mutual interests make increased cooperation possible in the short term. Neither side wants to deal with an agitated Kurdish separatist movement. And neither side sees eye to eye with the United States right now – Turkey because of U.S. support for Syrian Kurds, and Iran because its nuclear deal with the U.S. is facing great pressure in Washington. Both Turkey and Iran also are unconcerned with the strength and integrity of the region’s Arab nations.
And this is also one of the reasons this cooperation can’t last in the long run. For most of the region’s history since the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Turkish and Persian empires ruled the Middle East and its Arab population. These empires also used Kurdish populations to fight against each other – either by inciting one Kurdish group to create instability in the other country, or by using Kurdish troops as shock troops in their own armies.

The convergence of Turkish and Iranian interests will be ephemeral, but before it passes into historical patterns of antagonism, it has the potential to generate a significant alliance, one that temporarily reshapes the balance of power in the region. It decreases U.S. and Russian power in the region; it hastens the already accelerating deterioration of political stability in the Arab world; and it ensures that all the region’s various Kurdish populations will continue to only dream of independence without actually realizing it. The emergence of this reality was predictable. But that Iraq would hasten its own eventual doom by inviting the Turks and Persians in was not. Like any good story, geopolitics has its ironies.

The post Iraq Invites Its Own Demise appeared first on Geopolitical Futures.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1001 on: October 10, 2017, 12:06:53 AM »

second post

Tragically, this appears to be all too true.  Even Gen. Mattis appears to be on board with fg the Kurds.

By
Bernard-Henri Lévy
Oct. 9, 2017 7:18 p.m. ET

The Iraqi Kurds held a dignified, orderly referendum Sept. 25 that conformed with all the rules of a democratic vote. Afterward, they refrained from declaring the independence that is their right and that a century of treaties promised them.

President Masoud Barzani —who has stood with America and the West against Islamic State for two years—made this crucial point: In his mind, independence can come only after patient, sustained, possibly drawn-out negotiation with Baghdad.

And yet all the region’s dictatorships immediately unleashed their ire on him and his people. From the instant the results were announced, it was a race to see which one could go further to condemn, smother, block, embargo and imprison a small population whose only crime is to express the desire to be free, to flourish as an island of democracy and peace.

We have Iraq, a supposedly federal state that in recent years has observed none of its constitutional obligations to the Kurds—yet it has the nerve to declare the referendum unconstitutional.

We have Turkey, which has traduced the rule of law in its treatment of intellectuals, journalists, lawyers, dissidents and defenders of human rights—yet asserts its offense at the affront to legal form the Kurds allegedly committed by expressing their desire for orderly independence.

We have Iran, which has temporarily suspended the Sunni-Shiite quarrel, so urgent was the need to conclude with the Turks an alliance that will allow it to deal with the irredentism of its own Kurds.

And we have the Syrian regime, butcher of its own people, divider of its own nation, now touting the unity of Iraq and declaring the Kurdish referendum “unacceptable.”

Years ago, the phrase “Gang of Four” was coined to describe a cabal of leaders who believed that the Chinese revolution had not devoured enough of its children and that the massacre had to continue. Here we have a new Gang of Four composed of Haider al-Abadi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Bashar al-Assad and Ali Khamenei, who, in their distinctive ways, are threatening an air blockade, a land blockade, an oil embargo, a military intervention. How long before we hear the threat of rivers of blood?

Sorriest of all, when the Kurds—who have faced threats before, but sense in the Gang of Four a threat to their existence—call for help, the world, with the U.S. in the lead, finds nothing to say, averts its eyes and in so doing takes the side of the dictators. The Peshmerga were all we could talk about when we needed them to fight Islamic State. But now that the Iraqi phase of the war is almost won, we are discarding them—a disposable ally.

True, French President Emmanuel Macron mentioned the rights of the Kurdish people when Prime Minister Abadi visited Paris. Mr. Macron declared that the Kurds have long been a friend of France.   But that is not enough. In the absence of a stern and solemn warning to the Gang of Four—without a clear reminder that there is only one side to the escalation and it is theirs, without the reaffirmation of the great principles that underpin international law and universal morality—the worst may come to pass.

And France would find it difficult to carry on, without America, a fight for the honor, dignity, and the larger interest of the democracies. Don’t they urgently need, in this region, an ally with the mettle of the Kurds?

So, are we facing Munich-grade appeasement? Are we agreeing that might makes right? Will we give in to the world’s consummate blackmailers? Is the West—and the U.S. in particular—making a colossal error of judgment in not grasping that there is something suicidal about abandoning a brave and loyal ally in favor of its adversaries?

Or perhaps the Kurdish people—who are not Arabs, are secular, believe in pluralist democracy, practice equal rights for women, and have consistently protected, rescued and taken in minorities—are one more of the world’s expendable peoples.

There is only one solution: to speak up; to say calmly but firmly that there is something absurd about allowing authoritarian regimes to preach constitutional law to a people who only yesterday were under their boot; and to ensure that the Iraqi authorities respond, without delay or precondition, to the offer of dialogue the Kurds have extended to them.

Mr. Lévy is director of the documentary films “Peshmerga” and “The Battle of Mosul.” Translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy. 
Appeared in the October 10, 2017, print edition.
 


 

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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1002 on: October 10, 2017, 12:11:06 AM »

third post



Tensions Rise Between Iraqis and Kurds After Referendum

As the threat of ISIS recedes, the risk that Iraqi and Kurdish forces could clash in the future is growing
By Isabel Coles and Ali A. Nabhan 
Oct. 8, 2017 3:02 p.m. ET

DAQUQ, Iraq—For more than three years, the weapons along a front line held by Kurdish forces in northern Iraq have been aimed at Islamic State militants occupying the nearby city of Hawija.

Now, they are pointed toward Iraqi forces who have just routed the militants from Hawija—the latest in a series of victories that have brought Islamic State to the verge of defeat in Iraq.


Islamic State’s loss of Hawija removed the last buffer between Kurdish and Iraqi forces just as tensions between their respective leaders are intensifying over last month’s referendum in which Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence.

Up until now, the two forces cooperated for years to oust Islamic State, sharing intelligence and coordinating troop movements.

“We used to have a common enemy, but now things are changing,” said Col. Aso Ali Ahmed, a deputy commander of a brigade of Kurdish Peshmerga forces stationed near Hawija. “There may be war or there may not.”

As the threat of Islamic State recedes and the alliance between Kurdish and Iraqi forces weakens, the risk that the one-time partners will turn their guns on each other in future is growing, though leaders on both sides say they want to avoid conflict.

In the wake of the referendum, Iraq’s parliament authorized Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to deploy troops to retake areas outside the official boundary of the semiautonomous Kurdistan region that have come under Kurdish control in recent years, including during the fight against Islamic State.

Mr. Abadi also accused the Kurds of seeking to delay the Hawija operation, which was launched four days before the Kurdish independence referendum, which took place on Sept. 25. A Peshmerga official denied that.

The central government in Baghdad and the Kurds—backed by the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State—came together to fight the terror group after it overran around about a third of Iraq in 2014, setting aside differences over land and resources that have strained relations for more than a decade.

The areas taken over by the Kurds during the war on Islamic State include the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, from which the Kurds have been exporting crude without the blessing of the central government in Baghdad.

Iraq is the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and its economy is heavily dependent on oil. A significant portion of those resources are in the north, some within the Kurdistan region and some in territory controlled by Kurdish forces.

The most controversial aspect of the Kurdish referendum was the decision to conduct the vote in areas controlled by Kurdish forces outside the official boundary of the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan.

Kurdish leaders vow that they will not relinquish the territory they seized or protected from Islamic State—especially Kirkuk, which is economically and symbolically indispensable to the state the Kurds dream of declaring.

.

Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish regional president, visited Peshmerga commanders in Kirkuk last week and instructed them to fortify their positions as Iraqi forces advanced in Hawija.

At one outpost on this front line, Peshmerga fighters surveyed the changing landscape on Friday, picking out the flags of Iraqi security forces and assorted government-backed paramilitary groups on the other side of the berm. The mood was relaxed, but wary.

“We don’t know what their intention is, where they are going, or what they want to do,” said Capt. Beevan Mohammed. “We won’t attack anyone, but we won’t accept anyone attacking us.”

A makeshift shrine at another outpost commemorates 21 Peshmerga fighters killed defending a stretch along the front.

“We paid for this with blood and it will take blood to make us leave,” said Cpl. Hiwa Ahmed.

So far, Mr. Abadi has eschewed force, instead imposing a ban on international flights to and from the landlocked Kurdistan region. He also threatened to seize Kurdish border crossings with Iran and Turkey, which shared Baghdad’s opposition to the referendum and staged joint military exercises with Iraqi forces to express their anger.

“We don’t want armed confrontation. We don’t want clashes. But federal authority must prevail,” Mr. Abadi said during a visit to France on Thursday, where he announced the victory in Hawija, the last territory the terror group controlled in northern Iraq.

Although the referendum doesn’t automatically confer statehood, the government in Baghdad opposed it, as did the U.S., which warned of more conflict and chaos in the Middle East.

The Kurdish leadership also says it doesn’t want conflict, and has called for dialogue with Baghdad, and diplomats are seeking to defuse tensions.

But there has also been aggressive rhetoric, including from leaders of some government-backed Shiite paramilitary groups known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which have fought Islamic State alongside the Iraqi military.

“Until recently there were people who said dialogue would work with the separatists, but they [the Kurds] did as they pleased because they were not dealt with by force,” Qais al-Khazaali, who heads one group that is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, said in a recent speech.

Some of the militias within the Popular Mobilization Forces are loyal to Iran, which has been one of the staunchest opponents of the referendum and could mobilize its allies in Iraq against the Kurds.

Both sides have recruited local residents from the disputed territories in northern Iraq. It took an intervention by senior Kurdish, Iraqi and Iranian officials to end clashes last year between members of the local ethnic Turkmen minority who have joined Shiite paramilitary groups, and Kurdish forces in a town south of Kirkuk.

Among those who fought in the Hawija operation was Arab tribal leader Sheikh Burhan al-Assi, who assembled a small militia of 75 fighters to recapture his own village just yards from the new front line with the Kurds.

Mr. Assi, who is also a member of the Kirkuk provincial council, said he hoped Baghdad and the Kurds would reach an agreement. “I am not against self-determination for the Kurdish people as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others,” he said.

—Ghassan Adnan contributed to this article.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1003 on: October 10, 2017, 08:01:46 AM »

An Iraqi government official is proposing a confederal system instead of Kurdish independence, NRT reported Oct. 9. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official Fazil Mirani said a confederacy would be a good option — unless Baghdad seeks preconditions — that would allow Kurdistan to enjoy independence without secession from Iraq. A confederal system would require the Iraqi parliament to pass a constitutional amendment, which Mirani says is unlikely to happen. This proposition is among the latest following the Sept. 25 Kurdish independence referendum.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1004 on: October 16, 2017, 08:56:14 AM »

Although the Islamic State is on the run in most of Iraq, the fight for power, autonomy and resources among Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups is only just beginning. This struggle will be most evident in the territories disputed by the Iraqi government Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Arbil, most of which voted in the Kurdish independence referendum last month. The prize of the dispute is the oil-rich province of Kirkuk. After a tense four-day standoff between the Kurdish peshmerga, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the pro-Baghdad Shiite-led Popular Mobilization Forces, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the ISF, the Federal Police and the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service forces to move into the city of Kirkuk early on Oct. 16 to secure federal bases and installations in the area.

Prior to Islamic State's rapid advance across western and northern Iraq in 2014, Kirkuk province and its infrastructure was largely controlled and administered by Iraq's federal government. The Iraqi army provided much of the province's security while Baghdad's institutions — such as the North Oil Company and the North Gas Company — ran and controlled Kirkuk's oil and natural gas industry, home to about 300,000 barrels per day of production. But as the Iraqi army collapsed in Mosul in the north and Hawija in southwestern Kirkuk province, it withdrew from the city as the Islamic State closed in. The militant group even briefly captured the K1 military base outside the city of Kirkuk. Kurdish peshmerga fighters forced Islamic State fighters from K1 military base and many of the surrounding oil fields and were able to prevent them from taking control of the city as well. The Kurds took advantage of the situation by gaining control of the city, control that Baghdad doesn't want to give up over territory that it considers rightfully under central government control. Evidently, the Iraqi military advance is geared at securing the oil and gas infrastructure as well as the K1 military base.

The KRG will not want to give up its valuable leverage, but that doesn't mean it wants to start a war either. Two Kurdish parties — the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) — on Oct. 15 issued a statement calling for "an unconditional, responsible and constructive dialogue" with Baghdad over the referendum results. There were even rumors on social media suggesting that both parties agreed to certain concessions they would afford Baghdad in negotiations on Kirkuk, such as removing the Kirkuk governor, freezing the referendum results for one year, and joint ISF and peshmerga control of the K1 military base, along with other installations in Kirkuk. There may be a deal in the works between Baghdad and the KRG — or at least elements of the Kurdish government more willing to negotiate with Baghdad — to reduce tension by allowing the ISF to control some of the facilities in the region. Al-Abadi's recent announcements called for Iraqi forces to work with the peshmerga to secure the installations. And KRG President Massoud Barzani knows that conflict will undercut his Western support, leading him to order the peshmerga not to initiate any conflict, but allowing them to respond if Iraqi forces fire first.

While the broader dispute over Kirkuk's status is between Baghdad and Arbil, the struggle for Kirkuk is much more complicated. Kirkuk is a multi-ethnic city of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and other groups. Many of Kirkuk's non-Kurdish populations did not support the referendum. This is critical because the fight against the Islamic State in Hawija was led in part by Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces. Although these forces are technically under the control of al-Abadi, they are a conglomeration of dozens of militias, some of which are closer to Iran and al-Abadi's political rivals. In the region around Kirkuk, two of the more powerful militias are Turkmen militias that are linked to the Iran-backed Badr Organization. There have already been sporadic skirmishes between militias and the PUK peshmerga, most recently in the past week in Tuz Khurmatu, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) outside of Kirkuk. Al-Abadi has so far only ordered the Iraqi military and police force to move into the city — not the Popular Mobilization Forces. It is possible that by moving in more trusted forces first, al-Abadi is seeking to prevent a real conflict from erupting. Additionally, keeping the Popular Mobilization Forces out of Kirkuk means they are likely to be mobilized to Sunni-populated Anbar province instead, where the Islamic State still remains. This raises another set of problems for Baghdad.

What remains to be seen over the next few days is how the various moves will play out. Tensions in the region are high and the movement of forces comes with risk. There have already been unconfirmed reports that the Kurdish peshmerga have reinforced the city, sending in the elite Heza Rashaka unit, which was used to secure control of oil installations in March. There are been reports of the peshmerga destroying four Iraqi Humvee vehicles. Various KRG officials also said that Popular Mobilization Forces have been involved in the operation, despite al-Abadi's conflicting statements. At least seven Popular Mobilization Forces militiamen have allegedly been killed in Kirkuk's Hay al-Sanna. As Stratfor expected, the next phase of Iraq's conflict is underway.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1005 on: October 16, 2017, 02:41:18 PM »

second post

Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have quickly captured critical infrastructure points in Iraq's Kirkuk province and in the surrounding areas. After beginning its operation overnight Oct. 15, the Iraqi military has reportedly taken control of the North Oil Company and North Gas Company headquarters, Kurdistan's K1 military base, the Bai Hassan oil field and the Baba Gurgur and Avanah domes of the Kirkuk oil field. Currently, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) claims to still hold some of the oil fields in the area.

The Iraqi government's purpose for the operation is to reassert federal control over the disputed province of Kirkuk's most strategic assets, which fell under the control of the Kurdish peshmerga after the Islamic State rose to power there in 2014. But the pace of the ISF's advance appears to have been hastened by newly exposed splits within both the two main Kurdish political parties and the region's powerful but divided peshmerga military.
Iraq's Kurds, A Divided People

For years, the political scene in Iraqi Kurdistan has been dominated by two parties: the KDP, which is closely associated with the powerful Barzani family, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is tied to the similarly powerful Talabani family. In the Kurdistan Regional Government, the KDP is the ruling party, but in the eastern portions of Iraqi Kurdistan — including the heavily disputed province of Kirkuk — the PUK is dominant. Moreover, Kurdistan's peshmerga forces are divided between loyalty to the KDP and to the PUK. The majority of the region's peshmerga units remain directly controlled by either PUK or KDP political bureaus, and only a few report to the politically blended KRG government itself.

These differing chains of command have led to conflict. Soon after the start of last night's ISF advance, peshmerga forces under the control of the PUK reportedly received orders to withdraw from Kirkuk and to allow Baghdad's forces to take control of various installations. These events may have been the result of a prearranged agreement between the PUK's leadership — or, at least its Talabani factions — and the central government in Baghdad, which the Talabani family has courted closely. The Iraqi Oil Ministry's statement that both sides of the conflict agreed to avoid fighting around Kirkuk's oil fields provides further evidence that a deal was struck with the PUK.

The PUK's decision to withdraw has earned it intense criticism from the KDP, which has been sending in more KDP peshmerga brigades to reinforce Kurdish positions in Kirkuk. Right now, the PUK and the KDP seem more divided than ever, and there is a high risk of intra-Kurdish conflict during the coming days and weeks. In addition to reports of fighting between Kurdish and Iraqi forces, there have been indications of conflict between the PUK and the KDP's respective arms of the peshmerga. Eyewitnesses even report Kurdish civilians angrily protesting the perceived departure of PUK peshmerga forces from Kirkuk.
Increasing Uncertainty

In the aftermath of last month's Kurdish independence referendum, the Talabani-led faction of the PUK has pushed to work closely with Baghdad, believing the referendum was an attempt for Kurdish President Masoud Barzani to consolidate political control. Indeed, Bafel Talabani, the son of recently deceased PUK leader Jalal Talabani, went on television Oct. 12 to call for a de-escalation of conflict between Arbil and Baghdad and to urge the creation of a joint administration between the two that would run Kirkuk. However, it also appears that some of the PUK's peshmerga are more loyal to a splinter faction of the group led by Kosrat Rasul. These forces have actually been working alongside the KDP, reinforcing the group's positions in Kirkuk.

It is possible that Baghdad's moves in Kirkuk province were not initially intended to culminate in seizing the city itself. Statements by PUK-linked officials suggested that the goal was to take over the K1 military base on the outskirts of the city, as well as the oil and natural gas fields located in the province's hinterlands. But strong military pushback from the Kurds could have led to an operational decision to make a move onto the city — something the PUK might not have bargained when it made its alleged deal with Baghdad. And at this point, an Iraqi or Kurdish civil conflict could be on its way, whether any party intended it.

In the coming days, outside powers including the United States will likely try to exert pressure on Baghdad and Arbil to end the conflict. Meanwhile, Turkey has said that it backs Baghdad's moves against the Kurds, despite the fact that it has supported the KRG against Baghdad in the past. Turkey's choice can be attributed to its contentious relationship with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has also reportedly become involved in Kirkuk, as well as Turkey's overall disapproval of Iraqi Kurdistan gaining greater autonomy. The PKK was one of the Kurdish units to remain at the frontlines against the Islamic State the longest, and the group has even called for Kurds looking for an alternative means of resistance to join the PKK instead of the peshmerga. The more active the PKK becomes in the dispute, the more support Turkey will lend to Baghdad.
The Threat of Ethno-Sectarian Fighting

The events in Kirkuk have developed rapidly and have sharpened divisions within military and government groups. But perhaps the biggest question surrounding the conflict right now is whether or not it will devolve into broader sectarian fighting. Underlying sectarian disputes in the region have recently been exacerbated by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's decision to replace the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk, Najmadin Karim, with the Sunni Arab Rakan Said. The move is an especially sensitive one, given the Arabization campaign that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein led to curtail Kurdish nationalism.

Sectarian tension is set to grow even more if Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMUs) become more involved in the conflict in Kirkuk. The bulk of the PMUs in Kurdistan are made up of Brigades of Turkmen Shiite and Arab Shiite — and the Arabs and Turkmen were two of the largest regional minority groups to oppose the Sept. 25 independence referendum. And though the PMUs have not been very involved in the fighting so far, they participated in the takeover of Hawija from the Islamic State in southern Kirkuk province. It's possible that the PMUs — particularly the Iranian-supported Turkmen brigades — will move into Kirkuk once the ISF consolidates control. There are already unconfirmed reports that Hadi Al-Amiri and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, two key PMU commanders, have entered the city. Finally, there is the sectarian conflict between the Shiites and Kurds and the Sunnis. Turkmen Shiites and the Kurds have both been accused of displacing and ejecting Sunni Arabs and Sunni Turkmen from both the region and their governments as a response to Islamic State's rise.

Even if outside powers can end the fighting between the ISF and the KRG, underlying tension between Kirkuk's rival factions and sects will likely endure. Over the last few years, a shared enemy, the Islamic State, forced many of these groups to cooperate. But now that the threat of the Islamic State is dwindling, their differences have been thrown into sharp relief.
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