Impact on Issues

➚➚  / Iraq vs Kurds – Syria  – ➚ ➃ Middle East Tension
➚  Iran Iraqi and regional influence
Russia, U.S., Gulf Countries Conundrum
Russia Influence
U.S. influence –  U.S.weight (unwilling? influence)

Around Kirkuk, skirmishes have now taken place in the early hours of Monday 16 October 2017 between Iraqis troops and Hashd al-Shaabi forces (Popular Mobilization Forces – Shiite militias) on the one hand, Peshmergas from both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Meanwhile, civilians from Kirkuk would be ready to fight against Iraqi troops and would be joined, according to Kurdish Peshmergas, by civilians from Erbil, Duhok and Sulaimani. Tension or contradicting orders would also have taken place between different Peshmergas units. Contradicting statements regarding territorial gains emerge from the two sides, Iraqi and Kurds.

For previous and other signals check the

Horizon Scanning Board

The hope for stabilisation and constructive progress regarding a solution that could be found for Iraqi Kurdistan Independence (see previous signal on the issue) has dwindled starting Tuesday 10 October 2017. Then, the Iraqi President al-Abadi rejected the Kurdish unconditional offer for discussion and insisted that rejection of the referendum should precede any talk. The next day, Peshmergas units reported Iraqi military move towards Kirkuk and warned of impending attack. The possibility to solve peacefully the issue is now at its lowest considering fighting.

It is still however not impossible considering the renewed offer by the two main Kurdish parties (PUK and KRG), joined by the President of Iraq Fuad Masum, a Kurd member of the PUK to discuss with the Iraqi government on 15 October 2017. Yet, by this very declaration the Kurds also rejected the Iraqi ultimatum to renounce the referendum. This statement is also meant to show unity among the Kurds.

The involvement of Iran and notably the presence of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), spotted by Peshmergas intelligence on 15 October, besides Iraqi forces near Kirkuk, complicates further the matter. Indeed, Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds, the special forces branch of the IRGC  is officially in Iraq since Sunday 15 October 2017. Meanwhile, on 15 October, Iran has closed its border with Iraq.

Related

From Deir ez-Zor to the “Iranian factor” in “The Middle East Powder Keg and the Great Battle for Raqqa  12 June 2017

One cannot help wondering if the decision by the U.S. to decertify the Iran deal and to see the Treasury placing financial sanctions on the IRGC over alleged links to terrorism has not played its part in favouring escalation between the Kurds and Baghdad, with a possible “Iraqi-Iranian” build up preparing for the US declaration on Friday 13 Oct 2017. Had the deal with Iran been certified, it would have then been easy to potentially revert to a more conciliatory policy in Iraq. Iran may indeed perceive it has now little incentive to show restraint in the region, and thus increase its actions and interventions not only in Iraq but also in Syria, building upon its relationships with its allies (the Iraqi government and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad). Such possible active strategy of creating a corridor friendly to Iran towards the Mediterranean sea was already perceptible in June 2017.  Furthermore, we should not forget that Israel has supported the Kurdish referendum and Kurdish independence. Iran may thus have little qualms over a strategy thwarting Israel position, on the contrary.

As a result, and as the threat of the Islamic State in the region is receding – although by all means has not disappeared – the potential for further clashes, conflagration and war, not only in Iraq but also in Syria, as shown by the latest Turkish moves over the week-end in Northern Syria, is heightening (here also most probably mainly because of the Kurdish led SDF quasi victory over the Islamic State in Raqqa, but seen in the context of heightening general tension).

The conundrum and quagmire for major external powers from Russia to the U.S. without forgetting regional actors such as the Gulf countries is deepening.

LIVE: Iraqi forces, Shiite militia engage in fighting with Peshmerga south of Kirkuk, Rudaw, 16 Oct 2017 ( 8:13 CET).

Iraqi forces advance on disputed Kirkuk

Iraqi forces are advancing towards Kurdish-held sites in Kirkuk province. They intend to take control of oil fields and an airbase in the disputed region, Kurdish security officials say. Tensions between the two sides over the future of Iraqi Kurdistan have been high since Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in September.

Iranian general Qassem Soleimani visits Iraqi Kurdistan amid standoff with Baghdad

Kurdish leaders stand by independence referendum and vow to fight back if Iraqi forces attack

Iranian Guards with Iraqi forces near Kirkuk, Peshmerga claim, Rudaw

PUK and KDP reject demands to cancel referendum result, Rudaw

 

Kurdish security council warns of ‘major attacks’ by Iraqi forces on Kurdistan, Rudaw

Abadi: no estrangement with Kurdistan, referendum remains rejected

Security by Mohamed Mostafa Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday that the current dispute with Kurdistan Region over the latter’s referendum on independence will not lead to a severance of relations, but reiterated the unconstitutionality of the poll. “There shall be no estrangement with Kurdistan,” the prime minister said in his weekly press briefing in Baghdad.

Turkish army expands deployment in Syria’s northwest – rebels

AMMAN (Reuters) – The Turkish army is expanding its deployment in northwest Syria with the goal of encircling a Kurdish enclave and reining in Russian strikes in the Idlib border province under a deal to reduce clashes, rebels and witnesses said on Sunday.

About the author: Dr Helene Lavoix (MSc PhD Lond)

Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues. Her current focus is on Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Science, and Security. She teaches at Master level at SciencesPo-PSIA.

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