Conflicting Reports from Kirkuk

I’ve been covering the potential for an Iraqi Civil War between Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Kurds for Kirkuk and its surrounding areas since before the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum in September. Tonight we’re getting conflicting reports out of Kirkuk about what is actually going on.

From the Government of Iraq:

There have been reports of US led coalition aircraft over Kirkuk:

And that attacks have begun despite PM Ibadi’s orders:

From al Jazeera (emphasis mine):

Iraqi security forces have launched a “major operation” in the Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk to take control of a strategic military base and oil fields, according to Kurdish and Iraqi officials.

The aim of the advance early on Monday was taking control of the Kurdish-controlled K1 airbase, west of Kirkuk, Lieutenant Colonel Salah el-Kinani, of the Iraqi army’s 9th armoured division, told Reuters news agency.

Hemin Hawrami, senior assistant to Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) PresidentMasoud Barzani, also said on Twitter that Peshmerga forces had been ordered “not to initiate any war, but if any advancing militia starts shooting”, then they had the “green light to use every power” to respond.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Erbil, said Kurdish forces in and around Kirkuk “have vowed to defend it to the last man”. He added that the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk has reportedly called residents to arms, “saying anybody with a weapon should take it up and defend the city”.

It seems as if all diplomatic efforts have failed,” said Stratford, calling the push a “very worrying” development.

At this point it is unclear what exactly is going on. While the reports of actual fighting are scattered and only partially confirmed, there are two armed forces moving into close proximity of each other. And those two forces have very different objectives. Cooler heads may yet prevail, but it won’t take much for this to get really ugly really quickly.

Here’s a live stream from Kirkuk:

58 replies
  1. 1
    NotMax says:

    Anyone who didn’t foresee this coming as long as a decade ago has been wearing a blindfold.

    Haven’t caught up on articles yet; has al-Sistani made any pronouncement(s)?

  2. 2
    p.a. says:

    Sooo… what’s dear leader tweeting about while this is happening? His golf scores? Crooked Hillary? NFL? Do-nothing Mitch?

  3. 3
    Corner Stone says:

    I thought Mattis told these guys to “cut the bullshit”.

  4. 4
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: I’ve seen no mention of al Sistani. On anything. For months. Don’t see anything about it on his website.
    https://www.sistani.org/english/

  5. 5
    Adam L Silverman says:

    I was actually going to write something about the bombing in Mogadishu tonight.

    Or maybe this:

  6. 6
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @p.a.: You are welcome to look at his twitter account and report back.

  7. 7
    Corner Stone says:

    Sounds like we need another round of this:
    Kill the Wabbit

  8. 8
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Corner Stone: Did you get into Senator Hatch’s stash again?

  9. 9
    Corner Stone says:

    @p.a.: Looks to me like Ivanka is worried her already freakishly long neck is going to get stretched even further in the near future.
    Pretty soon she’s going to be working for those cloners in the Star Wars epi.

  10. 10
    sharl says:

    Yikes! Not a surprise this was coming, but…yikes!

    I wonder what the Iranians are thinking? They have their own Kurdish minority, but I cannot imagine them wanting to get sucked into this developing mess.

    Of course, our single-minded neocons and their gazillionaire Friends-of-Bibi backers may well blame them anyway – for…something –
    and between the “think” tanks they fund, some neocon-friendly editors of major op-ed pages (tip-o’-the-hat to Fred Hiatt), and a public generally uninterested in foreign policy, dangerous bullshit can travel far.

    In conclusion: Yikes!

  11. 11
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Corner Stone: I believe the technical term you’re looking for is coltish. Provided she also has long legs.

  12. 12
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @sharl: The Iranians have played both sides of this for decades. They took in and supported the large Iraqi Shi’a exile groups that now run Iraq. Including standing up and training their militias. They’ve also supported the Iraqi Kurds against Saddam Hussein. There is one report that Quds Force Commander Qassim Soleimani is in Kirkuk. It is from an interview with an Iraqi government minister. If this is true then things are very interesting. Among the host country forces, regular and irregular, in the Levant Soleimani is the only real strategist. And he’s an excellent one.

  13. 13
    Corner Stone says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Provided she also has long legs.

    I heard she just had them lengthened. Now they go all the way up.

  14. 14
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Corner Stone: That is one old joke.

  15. 15
    Corner Stone says:

    @sharl: Speaking of influence, I have been wondering about our friend Pooty-Poot.

  16. 16
  17. 17
    cynthia ackerman says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Hey, that could be our own srv!

  18. 18
    Corner Stone says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Hot Shots! I thought it appropriate given the military connotations and outcomes.
    Plus all the winning we’ve been doing lately.

  19. 19
    Adam L Silverman says:

    Tomorrow should be fun…

  20. 20
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @cynthia ackerman: I’m not following. Please clarify.

  21. 21
    Another Scott says:

    @Corner Stone: I thought that was St. John McCain?

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  22. 22
    Corner Stone says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Do we think Assange finally found the true code to opening Capone’s vault? Jeebus but Geraldo is going to be pissed.

  23. 23
    sharl says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I didn’t know Soleimani was in Kirkuk; that will add further complexity to the situation, and you can never have enough complexity!
    In addition to his skill as a strategist, he seems gutsy as well. And for what it’s worth, he has (to this American’s eyes) Omar Sharif-like good looks. I don’t know if that counts for anything with the Iranians I sometimes read about who want him to get into domestic politics, though he’s replied with a definitive NO! to such entreaties anyway.

    The Iranians aren’t “good” in the bullshit, childlike good-vs-bad framing we like to use in the U.S., but they’re pretty good at looking after what they perceive to be their own interests.

  24. 24
    danielx says:

    Used to be someplace on the net that had a betting pool on how soon and how rudely the Kurds were going to be screwed, politically speaking. Wondering if it’s back in operation.

  25. 25
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @sharl: Here you go:

    ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The spokesperson of the Iraqi government says Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force is a “military advisor” to the Hashd al-Shaabi forces in Iraq.

    Speaking to Rudaw TV on Sunday night, Saad Hadithi, the spokesperson of the Iraqi government said that Soleimani plays a role in Iraq as “military advisor” to the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi as there are Iranians and Americans existing in Iraq as well.

    He said Soleimani has good relations with the Kurdistan Region as well as “he is now in Kurdistan.”

    Concerning mounting tensions, Hadithi said they planned to resolve the Baghdad-Erbil relations through the constitution but the Kurdish leadership violated it when they unilaterally held the referendum on independence.

    “The position of the Iraqi government has stemmed from the constitution. The Iraqi constitution has to be respected as it has been drafted by the political parties including the Kurdistan coalition,” said Hadithi.

    He said the “constitution is the reference we rely on to resolve the problems.”

    Hadithi believes the Kurdistan Region violated the constitution when they unilaterally held the referendum.

    There is nothing called “Kurdistan nation“, he added, and that all Kurds are Iraqi because the Kurdistan Region is part of Iraq.

    He said Baghdad stopped sending the Kurdistan Region’s 17 percent budget share when the Region independently started selling oil.

    Baghdad under the reign of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cut off Erbil’s budget share in early 2014.

    In the wake of the independence referendum, Baghdad took a set of punitive measures against the Region, mainly the deployment of troops to disputed or Kurdistan areas, notably Kirkuk, a flight ban to and from the Kurdistan Region and border closure which was enforced by Iran on Sunday per Baghdad’s request.

    Hadithi also said border areas and airports must be brought under Baghdad’s control.

  26. 26
    Yutsano says:

    @sharl: There is no money in Iranian domestic politics. He’s making nice bank as a Quds commander since they are allowed side businesses. Like running weapons to Hezbollah, for example.

  27. 27
    Corner Stone says:

    “Giants coming off a worse week than Harvey Weinstein”
    Yeee-ouch!

  28. 28
    sharl says:

    @Corner Stone: Speaking of influence, I have been wondering about our friend Pooty-Poot.

    I think his usual thing is to try and show up in western Europe and the U.S. with gasoline and matches wherever he can. As a rule, we’ve already provided the dry kindling and maybe even a small brush fire.

    I see people who know roughly how FB, Google and Twitter work, who say that you don’t need to be a mastermind hacker to make these media work for you; the media owners made their products easy to use – by anyone – as part of their business model. So maybe Russian government-backed provocateurs are mastermind trolls and hackers, or maybe they are only as good as they need to be. As far as I can tell from what I’ve read, that bar between online hunky-doryness and chaos isn’t very high.

  29. 29
    But her emails!!! says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    So what do you think? Big dump of random Podesta or DNC emails with a handful of fake emails slipped in where Podesta/random staff member congratulates Weinstein on his sexual assaults with Hillary CC’d on the emails?

  30. 30
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @But her emails!!!: Who knows. Perhaps he’s going to dump the information he told Rohrbacher he had that proves the DNC hacks were an inside job and that Russia has nothing to do with anything. Given he’s a distribution front for Russian Intel, and given they’ve got the documents and data from the DNC hack, I’m sure they could make everything look legit. But honestly who knows.

  31. 31
    sharl says:

    @Yutsano: Yeah, that’s true. I always forget about the always critical local economics that are so important (everywhere).
    They don’t make bank off their kidnappings, do they? My assumption was always that the kidnapped were to be used in exchanges with hostile forces who held Quds fighters captive.

  32. 32
    sharl says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Thanks Adam.

  33. 33
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @sharl: Since the actual write up is quite ambiguous compared to the tweet, and I’m honestly not sure what to make of it, I left it out of the post.

  34. 34
    Timurid says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    The Somalia attack killed more than Paris, Orlando and Las Vegas combined, but for some odd reason I’m not seeing Somali flags all over Facebook and Twitter.

  35. 35
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Timurid: No Je Suis Mogadishu? I cannot imagine why not?

  36. 36
    Chris says:

    @Yutsano:

    When I was in undergrad, the class that got into the Pasdaran (what the Qods Force comes under) colorfully described them as “the U.S. Marine Corps, the KGB, the Mafia, and a Japanese megacorporation, all rolled into one.” One can easily imagine that if you’ve got a top spot in that outfit, you’re in no hurry to leave. (Especially since elected politicians in Iran wield no power over the military).

  37. 37
    Mike in NC says:

    Those black vehicles don’t look much different than the Rolls-Royce armored cars that the British operated in Palestine and Mesopotamia a hundred years ago.

  38. 38
    Corner Stone says:

    @sharl: Thanks, and thanks to Adam for his reminder. I was not entirely clear, I guess. Putin is getting a lot of what he wanted. But now what? Is he going to push Twitler in any certain direction? Or just let the Adult Day Care Center admin play out and stay out of the way.

  39. 39
    But her emails!!! says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    True. I just figured that it would be strange for Russia to interrupt the US media while it was still engaged in the Weinstein feeding frenzy. Figured it would make more sense to toss additional chum into the water.

  40. 40
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Yutsano: @Chris: The Revolutionary Guards overall, and the Quds Force as the special/elite component of them, control a significant amount of Iran’s domestic economy as it is. This is not unusual in the region. The Egyptian Army is the same way. Or was. There was an attempt at reform after the last time the Egyptian Army had to drop everything to bake and distribute bread a few years ago.

  41. 41
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mike in NC: There’s an entire twitter feed devoted to the up armored vehicles and VBIEDs of ISIS.

    We truly live in a brave new world full of wonders and miracles.

  42. 42
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @But her emails!!!: Who knows. Knowing Assange it could be nothing. Or given his position on Catalan independence, it could be something bad about the Spanish government.

  43. 43
    Yutsano says:

    @Chris: The term “byzantine” is a bit of a misnomer. Except the Byzantines (and especially the Ottomans) learned how to do bureaucracy from the Persians. And complex government structures are still the norm. Who reports to whom exactly is such a strange web of ties and dead ends that it would probably take a computer like Deep Thought another 7 1/2 million years to figure it out.

  44. 44
    Yutsano says:

    @Adam L Silverman: It definitely falls under the “nice work if you can get it” category. I will say the one plus about the Quds is that they don’t allow hereditary membership unless the child can prove their mettle.

  45. 45
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Yutsano: So you’re saying Seb son of Hugo Drax and a Soviet era coffee maker has a chance?

  46. 46
    Adam L Silverman says:

    Well the Cubs just blew a second one in a row.

  47. 47
    Mary G says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Dodgers win again!

  48. 48
    sharl says:

    @Corner Stone: I don’t know (of course), but I would think Putin has the luxury of sitting back at the moment, and maybe have his minions use any down time to do some research and planning for our 2018 elections – looking for technical vulnerabilities in our states’ election/registration systems, designing e-mail phishing schemes for political leaders and campaign managers, etc. That’s of course just in the U.S.; I’m sure there are opportunities for shenanigans in other countries as well.

    The dude has got to be positively orgasmic about how Twitler is sabotaging the JCPOA (“Iran Deal”). The wedge that is driving between the U.S. and our (soon-to-be-former?) European allies goes well toward satisfying one of his big goals, and if that – along with heaven knows what else Twitler does next – severely weakens NATO and parallel economic alliances, he’d have reason to party hardy.

    Some entrepreneur might be able to make a few bucks designing baseball hats with the inscription

    MAGA Снова сделайте Россию

    Assuming Google Translate didn’t do me wrong – {narrator: Google Translator often does him wrong} – that should translate as “Make Russia Great Again”.

  49. 49
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mary G: I just said that.

  50. 50
    Adam L Silverman says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States:

  51. 51
    japa21 says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Maddon is making awful decisions. He did last year too, but the Cubs surmounted his stupidity. He is not a good tactical manager.

  52. 52
    Chris says:

    @Yutsano:

    An interesting thing I noticed when comparing the Iranian Green Revolution (2009) with the Tunisian Arab Spring (2010/2011) was that Iran was actually ranked as more corrupt than Tunisia – but that that actually worked in the regime’s favor. Thanks to that whole intricate “web of ties and dead ends” that runs the government, the corruption is spread very far and wide, many people are getting their cut, and that translates into a lot of people who have an interest in keeping the system running. Compare and contrast Tunisia, where the ruler and his wife’s families cornered the market on corruption, meaning nobody else was going to miss them.

    Counterintuitively, widespread systematic corruption can actually help stabilize a system – at least for a while.

  53. 53
    sharl says:

    Just ran across a twitter thread on this topic, gonna leave it here. I know nothing about the tweeter, but Adam might, presuming his twitter bio is accurate: Iraq/KRG analyst since 90s. Regular visitor to Mespot. Passionate about Iraqi potential, Kurdish food & freedom, however defined.

    The thread starts here:

    A few thoughts. This is without doubt the largest clash between Pesh and ISF of the post-Saddam period. It is going to take some un-fucking.— Michael Knights (@Mikeknightsiraq) October 16, 2017

    never before, not even in the 2008 Khanaqin crisis or 2012 Rabiya crisis did artillery get used. Nothing compares 2 this

    ISF will gain ground now fighting started. They are a seasoned force, set up for crunching thru defenses, even w/out US air

    my gut is that international pressure will stop the fighting quickly – during Monday – and this will drive negotiations

    it’s a damned shame because there seemed 2 b some traction earlier today in talks. But it was illusory. Hardball won out.

    Baghdad is really not messing around, is willing to mix force & negotiations. It’s a new confidence, backed by Turkey/Iran

    Iraq and its security forces are rolling into this right after Mosul, Tall Afar, Hawijah. If PM says go, they go.

    ISF has a lot of residual flaws but it is a more battle-tested force than Pesh right now. It is on a liberation roll”.

    this can be seen even in PM Abadi’s slightly odd characterization of the Kirkuk op, liberating Kirkukis from themselves.

    US can’t let intense fighting continue so we are likely to see a freeze. When the dust clears, the damage may be manageable

    this is the bullet that Baghdad/KRG relations has been dodging since 2008. I hope it fully wakes everyone up.

  54. 54
    sharl says:

    Final exchanges before Michael Knights called it an evening (I lightly edited some of it, for clarity):

    cale salih‏ @callysally
    Common US arg is that outstanding Erbil-Baghdad and other pol problems “distract” from fight against ISIS. In reality reverse has been more true

    Michael Knights‏ @Mikeknightsiraq
    Well put – never thought of it that way. A very clean formulation.

    Ceng Sagnic‏ @cngsgnc
    Since when Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, the organization claimed 6k attacks on the US army, is a part of ISF?

    Michael Knights‏ @Mikeknightsiraq
    you know the answer to that Ceng: since the PMF law and various exec orders were passed, unfortunately.

    Randa Slim‏ @rmslim
    Kirkuk has always been the flashpoint for war in #Iraq. KRG should have kept it out of the referendum.

    Michael Knights‏ @Mikeknightsiraq
    this was an early idea I raised with KRG/others, but failed 2 get traction. See as politically hard 2 do three-province referendum.

    Michael Knights‏ @Mikeknightsiraq
    Baghdad is really not messing around, is willing to mix force & negotiations. It’s a new confidence, backed by Turkey/Iran

    mahmoud mroueh‏ @heuorm
    Something changed in Baghdad in last few hours. Abadi seems to be tougher. A silent coup is going on? Maybe.

    Michael Knights‏ @Mikeknightsiraq
    soft coup can partial, reversible or even just until Hajji Qassem has left the building
    but seriously, I think Abadi is pursuing some of his own legacy items here. He’s not the Abadi of 2014.

    Michael Knights‏ @Mikeknightsiraq

    So, tonight’s action ended in a new situation in PUK-controlled Kirkuk: there r now federal special forces at K1, the result of an agreement
    There is a lot of hard working going on behind the scenes and some tough compromises being swallowed, for now. But will it b enough for now?
    Sounds like there was real, if brief, fighting at Maktab Khalid and Tal al-Ward. These locations seem to be in ISF hands now.
    Maktab Khalid places ISF very close to North Gas Company. Tal al-Ward puts ISF within striking distance of Khabbaz and Bai Hassan oilfields.
    Question now is whether there will be a follow-on second phase of ISF op, or whether Abadi feels he has achieved enough for now.
    Amazing how chaotic these hours can be: so much disinformation, endless risk of misreading intentions, emotions running high. Off to bed.

    I left out the occasional twitter potshots (tweetshots?) Kurds, Iraqis and Turks were taking at each other. Gonna be a LOT more of those to come, no doubt.

  55. 55
    NotMax says:

    @sharl

    Turks or Turkmen? Makes a vast difference.

  56. 56
    sharl says:

    @NotMax: I couldn’t tell just from their tweets, though I don’t think it actually would make a difference in this case: both the Turks and the Turkmen have longstanding suspicions and worries about the Kurds.

    In this case of course the Turkmen have a lot more skin in the game, since so many of them live in the self-declared (Iraqi) Kurdistan, and the Kurdish government and its Peshmerga militia have sometimes been rough with their minority groups, like the Turkmen and Yazidis. So Turkmen are likely to be more ragey about the Kurds, though I wouldn’t be able to tell from just one or two tweets. Unless they mention some specific detail, e.g., “hey these Kurdish assholes took over my village and expelled us”, Turkish and Turkmen glee at Kurdish misery will likely look about the same.

    This thing’s gonna keep burning though (or maybe just smoldering, if everyone’s lucky), so there will be LOTS more of this.

  57. 57
    NotMax says:

    @sharl

    Makes a difference if Turkish military forces have crossed the border (either on the initiative of Erdogan or by invitation of Iraq) and are engaged in hostilities.

    Turkey has run cross-border sorties many time previously into Iraqi Kurdistan, but this would represent an escalation.

  58. 58
    sharl says:

    I would be surprised if the Iraqis invited the Turks in; Baghdad hasn’t been shy about threatening Ankara over past incursion threats, and in this case, the Iraqi forces seem to be really feeling their oats. After their grueling defeats of Daesh/ISIS/ISIL over the past months, they have lots of battle experience and aren’t likely in the mood for any apparent effort on Erdoğan’s part to realize his dream of resurrecting the Ottoman Empire at their expense.

    I’m guessing that Turkish government mischief wouldn’t likely be welcome by Iran either, given their presence in Kirkuk in order to try settling things down.

    But given how quickly things can change in that area, tomorrow may present a whole different scenario.

    In the meantime, people on social media can bellow and swing their dicks around to their hearts’ content, as usual.

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