Last night (Sunday 15 October) the Iraqi army, along with the Iranian guards and the Hashd al-Shaabi militia (People’s Mobilisation Forces or Popular Mobilisation Units, an Iraqi state-sponsored armed organisation) moved into Kirkuk to take various oil fields and army bases which are currently under the control of the Iraqi Kurdish Government (KRG). Iranian militia forces are reported as taking part in this offensive and Iran has closed its borders with the Kurdish region.
The Erbil International Airport is not operating and the Kurdish airspace is under an effective lock-down. Frequent scheduled flights from Turkey are not operating since last week as part of the Turkish ‘embargo’ imposed on the KRG Government.
Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran won’t tolerate an independent Kurdistan.
Initially there was no armed resistance by the KRG Peshmerga against the Iraqi army move but localised fighting began in the early hours of Monday. The situation is escalating fast and the Iraqi forces are still advancing. They have already taken control of some the critical areas.
Kirkuk’s population is in its big majority Kurdish but there are other minority groups such Arabs and Turkmen. So far the relations between these groups have been relatively calm but sectarian influences from the outside and escalating armed conflict may cause a lot of trouble in this historically complex city.
This was clearly demonstrated after the 2003 Iraqi invasion when sectarianism caused so much bloodshed.
There is another twist in the story: The US has military advisers working with both the KRG and the Iraqi Government.
The US have told the KRG to delay the independence referendum and the Iraqi Government not to start military operations against the Kurds… And they’ve failed in achieving either. The US is not currently able to call the shots in the region.
The US-Iranian political hostilities and threats continue and the Turkish-US relations are also very tense. Relations have not been this bad since the 1974 Cyprus invasion.
This all throws the so called ‘ongoing fighting against Isis’ up in the air, especially as Isis is still controlling some of the Iraqi-Syrian border region.
Meanwhile reports from Raqqa are not good. Isis is on the verge of defeat but the city is being continuously destroyed. Thousands of civilian refugees fleeing the city will have nowhere to return to. Isis fighters are not all eliminated. Some are escaping to other places.
The Turkish army, with the blessings of Iran and Russia, and despite Assad’s continuous protests, has moved to Idlib.
The Turkish agenda is two-fold: (1) Preventing the establishment of a geographically continuous autonomous region controlled by the Kurds in Syria (2) and further regional control using the mixed ethnicity of the Idlib region as an excuse for their so called peace-keeping mission. This, again, is a unilateral move by an historically subordinate US ally/NATO member despite all US calls not to initiate a land invasion.
In the region the traditional ‘NATO way of doing things’ is not functioning. There is no unity of NATO Members. It seems they have no strategy, or even a common objective beyond defeating Isis. Local and regional forces are increasingly influential in shaping the conflicts or negotiations in the region.
Russia, while working closely with Turkey, is also defending the Assad regime against the Turkish ambitions and assisting the regime’s airstrikes on Idlib. Turkey still maintains its position on ‘a new Syria without Assad’.
Socialists must oppose the Iraqi aggression and demand that Iraq stops all attacks on the Kurds. We have always supported the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination. In this situation that means their right to establish an independent Kurdish state. We therefore defend the current Iraqi Kurdish referendum.
It was to be expected that the post-Isis chaos/conflicts in the region would start after the final defeat of Isis when the messy ‘anti-Isis coalition’ of regional and global forces would start turning against each other to protect their own interests. But it has not waited till then. Isis was the common enemy – or excuse – for all to intervene in Syria and Iraq, but now the de facto coalition is not working anymore.
If there is an all out armed fighting between the Iraqi army and KRG Peshmerga, this won’t be anything like bombing Isis from the skies. We may yet see a very bloody escalation in the whole region.
Global and regional imperialism is in crisis and continues to cause further crises in the region. As always, it is the ordinary people who pay the price. Inevitably this new conflict will generate more civilian casualties and even more refugees.