October 20, 2017

Kurdistan: the Struggle for Oil Has Begun

Vadym Volokhov

On Monday, October 16, 2017, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi dismissed Governor of Kirkuk, Kurd by origin, Najmaldin Karim and assigned Rakan Saeed al-Jobouri as the Acting Governor.

October 17, 2017, the Iraqi forces, together with Shiite militias, began offensive against the Kurdish “Peshmerga” towards Kirkuk and oil fields near the city.

Three weeks ago, after the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, we wrote that “Iraq can begin a war, but not with Kurdistan itself, but just to return control of Kirkuk. The task is local and relatively feasible, but the Kurds will not give away Kirkuk just for fun. It's not for nothing that the Kurdish “Peshmerga” has laid hundreds of its fighters to liberate it”. Much the same thing has happened, with the exception that Iran has got actively engaged in the fight.

According to “Reuters”, Iraqi forces took control over the Bai Hassan and Avana oil fields outside Kirkuk.

It has also been reported that the troops are preparing for an offensive on the city of Chanaqin, where there are also oil fields.

Kurdish formations of “Peshmerga” are retreating. The Kurdistan Security Council issued a statement about the “Iraq's declaration of war on Kurdistan” with a call for all the “Peshmerga” militia to resist the enemy.

Iraqi forces took control over the Bai Hassan and Avana oil fields outside Kirkuk

Spokesperson for the United States Department of State Heather Nauert urged the parties to “avoid provocations”. She was also supported by John McCain, Chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee.

On the October 16–17 in Erbil, there was the US representatives' meeting with senior leadership of Kurdistan and “Peshmerga” commanders.

These are lines from official reports. What is little written about, or kept secret? What has actually happened?

On October 14, Commander of the special “Quds Force” in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Major General Qasem Soleimani arrived in the Kirkuk area. On the night of October 16, units of the Iraqi Army, Shiite militia along with “Al-Hashd al-Sha'bi” formations, controlled by the IRGC, under the command of the legendary Iranian General Q. Soleimani, took the offensive and quickly seized Kirkuk and its adjoining areas. It is likely that Tehran “pressed” on Baghdad and in fact made it start the war for oil, as it has enough strength to fight the Kurdish “Peshmerga”.

As it was supposed, Kirkuk itself became a “stumbling block” between Kurdistan and Iraq, and without Kirkuk oil, Kurdish independence is highly questionable.

The Kurds played the wrong card. They did not immediately understand why Washington paused with the recognition of the referendum. It was waiting, because to sharpen simultaneously relations with Turkey, Iraq and Iran — is a bad idea.

The Kurds made a mistake with the assessment of the combat readiness of the Iraqi forces. The command of the Iraqi Army managed to allocate several thousand military servicemen to fight the “Peshmerga”. After all, the Kurds did not believe that Iran, fighting with terrorists in Syria, would venture into an outright conflict with Kurdistan.

The Kurds did not take into consideration that Tehran was very concerned about the USA and Israel's support to the “Kurdish issue” and stirring Kurdish separatism in Iran.

Iraqi forces dismantle a poster of Massoud Barzani on the outskirts of Kirkuk

Iraqi forces dismantle a poster of Massoud Barzani
on the outskirts of Kirkuk

Quite a remarkable role in this situation was also played by the sharp contradictions between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

The leadership of the PUK, which is under the great influence of Iran, decided not to fight for Kirkuk and on the eve of the offensive began to withdraw its troops from Kirkuk. The KDP's formations failed to withstand the offensive and left their positions.

The situation is now such that the Kurds cannot resist radical Shiite formations that can bring up to 100 thousand fighters from the South and another 45–50 thousand from the North of Iraq. And this is a very powerful force that is fully controlled by Iran's IRGC.

Today, the main question is whether Iraqi forces and Shiite formations will go to Erbil to end the Kurdish independence, or will stop and begin talks with Massoud Barzani. Under these circumstances, M. Barzani has little chance. Apart from not getting an independent Kurdistan, he may also lose the autonomy of the three provinces in Northern Iraq.

If the troops go to Erbil, what will the Americans do? In case of an offensive, they will have to evacuate their forces from Kurdistan. And what will the Israeli do with their intelligence centers in Kurdistan?

Time will tell whether Iran's intervention in Kurdistan can be considered a response to the US President's recent statement about terminating the nuclear deal and Washington's attempt to “squeeze” Iran out of Syria? Has the USA lost its control of Kurdistan as a result of its actions and contributed to strengthening Iran's role in the Middle East?