Baghdad (GPA) – The first shots have been fired in the war for ‘Kurdistan,’ and it appears the Iraqi army has come out on top in Kirkuk.
This weekend, the Iraqi army began their incursion to the newly declared “Kurdistan” following last month’s independence referendum. Despite assurances from the Kurdish government that the region would be able to hold out against Iraqi forces the local Peshmerga have already suffered losses and surrendered vital territory to control by Baghdad.
The evacuation of the peshmerga started early Monday, with the withdrawal of Kurdish units from Maktab Khaled and Tal al-Ward, two key areas south of Kirkuk. These two regions are now under the control of Iraqi police. Other sources later said that Kurdish forces had also surrendered and evacuated Daquq, about 40 kilometers from Kirkuk.
The Peshmerga general command responded to Iraq’s advances by saying the move on Kirkuk is “a flagrant declaration of war against the nation of Kurdistan.” The Peshmerga also leveled claims against the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), accusing the rival faction of aiding “plot against the Kurdistan nation” by Iraqi forces.
— Peshmerga #KIRKUK (@KURDISTAN_ARMY) October 16, 2017
The US, on the other hand, is calling the events taking place in Kirkuk a “misunderstanding” between two allies. The peshmerga statement commented on the fact that the Iraqi army was using western military equipment but mysteriously decided not to disclose the source of their arsenal. It’s due to these facts that the US has chosen to maintain neutrality as long as possible, calling Kirkuk a “distractor” away from the war against Daesh and without blaming either side, said both the Kurds and Iraqis are wasting time “going at each other.”
One nation that is fully supporting the Iraqi operations is Turkey. Seeing the Kurdish referendum as a bomb that’s blast could spread into several countries (Iran, Syria, and Turkey), a meeting of Turkey’s security council backed Iraq’s decision shortly before operations were underway. Also in their statement, the Turks asked that the Iraqi government close the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing between Kurdish territory and Turkey.
As of the writing of this piece, Iraqi forces seem to be having further successes as the day goes on. Beyond just recapturing the several critical areas mentioned above, later in the day Iraqi forces also took control of key pieces of infrastructure including a significant military base and the Baba Gurgur oil field, where the Kurds draw most of their money.
Despite over a year of western coverage about the seemingly-invincible peshmerga, the first day of fighting seems to contest this mythical narrative. It’s unlikely Kurds will see any success if they continue direct confrontation with the Iraqi army, so all that remains to be seen once they fail is whether or not the referendum was really popular enough to spark an insurgency.