2017 Iraqi–Kurdish conflict

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2017 Iraqi–Kurdish conflict
Part of Iraqi–Kurdish conflict
Iraqi–Kurdish conflict map.png
Map of the areas of control as of late October, 2017
  •   De facto border (largely disputed)
  •   Other disputed borders
  • Controlled by the Iraqi Government:
      Unrecognised areas of the Kurdistan Region
      Rest of Iraq
  • Controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government:
      Recognised areas of the Kurdistan Region
      Unrecognised areas of the Kurdistan Region
      Area outside the Kurdistan Region
  •   Controlled by the Sinjar Alliance
  •   Controlled by ISIL
Date15 October 2017 – 27 October 2017
(1 week and 5 days)
LocationNorthern Iraq
Result

Major Iraqi victory

Territorial
changes
  • Iraqi federal government captures 20% of territory controlled by KRG[7]
  • The Iraqi Government regains control over the city of Kirkuk, and over the towns of Daquq, Sinjar, Tuz Khurmatu, Jalawla, Altun Kupri, Khanaqin, Zummar, Makhmur, Rabia, along with the surrounding oil fields and airports
  • Belligerents

    Iraqi Kurdistan Iraqi Kurdistan


    PKK[1][2][3]
    PUK[4]
    PDKI[4]
     Iraq
    Supported by:
     Iran[5]
     Turkey[6]
    Commanders and leaders
    Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani
    (President of Iraqi Kurdistan, resigned on 1 Nov.)
    Iraqi Kurdistan Kosrat Rasul Ali
    (Vice President of Iraqi Kurdistan until 1 Nov.)
    Iraqi Kurdistan Nechirvan Barzani
    (Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan)
    Iraqi Kurdistan Masrour Barzani
    (Head of Security Forces)
    Iraqi Kurdistan Najmiddin Karim
    (ex-Kirkuk governor)
    Iraqi Kurdistan Wahid Bakuzi [8]
    (Head of KDP branch in Zumar)

    Iraq Fuad Masum
    (President of Iraq)
    Iraq Haider al-Abadi
    (Commander in chief)
    Iraq Othman al-Ghanmi
    (Chief of Staff of Iraqi army)
    Iraq Maj. Gen. Fadhil al-Barwari
    (ISOF commander)
    Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis
    (Deputy Chairman of Popular Mobilization Committee)
    Yılmaz Neccar[9]
    (Turkmen PMU commander)


    Turkey Hakan Fidan
    (Chief of MİT, claimed by PUK)[6]
    Units involved

    Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga

    HAK-R[10]
    PDKI Peshmerga[citation needed]
    HPG


    PUK Peshmerga (Some factions)[4][11]

    Iraq Iraqi Army

    ITC (Protection of headquarters in Kirkuk)[13]
    Strength
    13,000+ Peshmerga forces [14] 2,000+ government fighters and PMU forces[15]
    Casualties and losses
    150+ killed, wounded, 45 captured in battle of Kirkuk.[16] [17] [18] (Shorish hospital Sulaymaniyah medical claim)

    188 killed and wounded in Kirkuk, Altun Kupri, Makhmour, Faysh Khabur, Tuz Khurmatu and Zummar battles [19][20]

    8 PMU killed near Tuz Khurmatu [21] (Kurdish claim)
    400 Kurdish civilians killed, 200 missing in Kirkuk (per Kurdish Media)[22][23]
    183,000 displaced (per United Nations)[24]

    The 2017 Iraqi–Kurdish conflict occurred in and around the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, and began on 15 October 2017, shortly after the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum in 2017 held on September 25. The diplomatic crisis between the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) escalated into a conflict, which resulted in the Battle of Kirkuk (2017). The conflict led to the Iraqi Kurds losing the Kirkuk oilfields as their main source of revenue.[25]

    Background[edit]

    The President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, facilitated the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum in September 2017. This provoked the Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi to demand that the referendum result be cancelled, and called on the KRG to initiate dialogue "in the framework of the constitution".[26] In October, Iraq began to move its forces into areas seized by the KRG after the entry of ISIL, and all the disputed areas outside the Kurdish Region, including Kirkuk.[27][28]

    Battle of Kirkuk[edit]

    The Kurdish Peshmerga ignored a deadline given by Iraq to withdraw by 15 October 2017. This led to the Iraqi forces and the PMU militia retaking Kirkuk and its province on the same day. Within 15 hours, the city of Kirkuk and the nearby K-1 Air Base, along with surrounding oilfields, were retaken by Iraqi forces.[29] The international coalition described the events as "...coordinated movements, not attacks...", with most Peshmerga withdrawing without much of a fight.[30] This was likely due to the fact that Hero and Bafel Talabani, leaders of the PUK Peshmerga, struck a deal with the Iraqis to withdraw without a fight without notifying the KDP Peshmerga. This, in turn, led to the collapse of Kurdish defenses, and led to accusations of betrayal on part of the Talabani family by the KDP, since the day before the battle of Kirkuk both parties met in Dukan and agreed to fight.[31] The same day, Iraqi forces advanced on and captured the city of Tuz Khurmatu in the Saladin Province, 60 km south of Kirkuk,[32] as well as Kifri in the Diyala Governorate.[33]

    On 17 October 2017, ISIS attacked the villages of Makha, and Twelha, just north of Kirkuk.[34] The Iraqi advance also continued, with further gains including Khanaqin near the Iranian border as well as Jalawla, Bashiqa and Sinjar towards Syria.[35]

    A statement from the Iraqi military on 18 October, 2017, confirmed that the Mosul dam and other previously Kurdish-held territories in Nineveh province had been taken from the Peshmerga.[36] Ali Akbar Khafaji, an Iraqi police officer, claimed eight PMU fighters and one Peshmerga fighter were killed in clashes that broke out after the PMU failed to heed the Peshmerga's warnings to not advance on the Mosul dam.[37]

    By 19 October 2017, according to Erbil's governor, 100,000 ethnic Kurds had fled the city of Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu following the victory by Iraqi forces, with 18,000 Kurds taking shelter in Erbil and Suleimaniya.[38] The next day, Hemin Hawrami, a senior assistant to KRG President Masoud Barzani, said in a post on Twitter that 57,000 families from Kirkuk were in need of "immediate assistance" after arriving in various parts of Iraqi Kurdistan and taking shelter in unfinished housing units, having fled from "violence, looting and crimes" perpetrated by the Iranian-trained and largely Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces.[39] Kirkuk police called on the media not to publish rumors.[40] The United Nations released a statement saying it was concerned about reports of violence and the forced displacement of Kurdish civilians,[41] and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.[42] It was further reported that UN relief offices received reports that in the town of Tuz Khurmatu, 150 houses were burned and 11 houses were blown up.[43][39][42] The UN noted PM Haider al-Abadi's acknowledgement of incidents in Tuz Khurmatu, caused by what he described as extremist elements from both sides and his decision to send the Iraqi army to restore order in Tuz Khurmatu, as well as the requests of the political and security leaderships of the country for federal and local security forces to act in full respect for law and order and protect civilians and political leaders.[43] The PM accused social media instigators of posting fake videos of the alleged violations.[41] The Niqash website confirmed this increase of false news, as well as hundreds of fake videos & pictures. Leaders on both sides say this is leading to a dangerous escalation of tensions in northern Iraq.[44]

    On 19 October 2017, one person was killed and three wounded in a protest against Iraqi forces in Khanaqin city. A group of about 150 to 200 unarmed youth carrying Kurdistan flags were protesting, demanding that Iraqi forces leave the city, Col. Azad Isa, Khanaqin’s police chief, told Rudaw Kurdish Network.[45] The demonstration was small but energetic, ending with some dancing before they all left. Many said they just wanted the local police to have a presence in town and were not concerned with the larger political struggle over Kurdish independence.[46]

    On 20 October 2017, a battle took place in Altun Kupri as Iraqi forces moved towards it.[47] Iraq's Joint Operations Command stated that Peshmerga had used MILAN missiles in the battle, which led to Iraqi criticism as the missiles were given by Germany to the Peshmerga in order to be used against ISIL. The Peshmerga denied they had used the missiles.[48] Earlier, Germany had said it would temporarily stop training Kurdish Peshmerga forces.[49] However, training began again after a week's interruption.[50] Kurdish sources also reported that over 150 PMU fighters were killed or wounded.[51] This was considered to be the first significant battle in which the Peshmerga put up a heavy resistance, whereas in other disputed areas they withdrew after the arrival of Iraqi forces.[52]

    By the end of 20 October Iraqi forces have seized complete control of Kirkuk province.[53] Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC) meanwhile denied that Hashd al-Shaabi (PMU) fighters were present among the troops that advanced on Altan Kupri, claiming the troops were Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces. It added that two soldiers were killed and five others wounded in the clashes that erupted when they captured the town.[54]

    Subsequent events[edit]

    On 24 October 2017, Peshmerga KDP forces were told that the checkpoint in Makhmur would be handed over as per agreements between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Regional government. However, upon arrival at the checkpoint, the Peshmerga surrounded the Iraqi troops. Twenty Iraqi soldiers were arrested,[55] two killed, and eight more were wounded by the Peshmerga.[56] The PUK accused the Peshmerga KDP of mistreating those who had been arrested by them,[57] and all Iraqi soldiers were released after the Peshmerga command intervened against a local Peshmerga garrison acting against orders.[58]

    On 25 October 2017, Iraqi forces seized the Rabia border crossing with Syria after the withdrawal of Syrian Kurdish forces.[59] On the same day, the KRG made a statement offering to freeze the results of the referendum as part of an offer to defuse the crisis. The statement also called for a ceasefire and a halt to all military operations in the northern region.[60] Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi rejected the proposal, adding that the Iraqi central government "will accept only the canceling of the referendum and following the constitution."[61]

    On 26 October 2017 at 06:00 hrs, Iraqi federal police and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) began a four-pronged assault on Peshmerga positions in Zummar; from Bardiya and Hamad Agha towards Ain Ouais, from Mosharaf towards Sufaya, and from Rabia towards Mahmoudiya.[62] The Kurdistan Security Council claimed that Peshmerga had destroyed three tanks, five US-supplied Humvees and one Badger and repelled the attempts of the Iraqi forces to retake Faysh Khabur.[63] However, Iraqi forces and PMU militia managed to retake two villages, Jazronia & Mahmoudiya, as they attempted to advance towards the town of Faysh Khabur, near the Iraqi-Syrian-Turkish border triangle.[64][65] Some reports meanwhile indicated that Masoud Barzani might announce that he would step down as president of the KRG.[66]

    On 27 October, the Kurdish Regional Government stated that Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters had agreed to stop fighting in northern Iraq, although the status of any ceasefire remained unclear. A CJTF-OIR spokesman earlier said the deal covered all fronts of conflict. However, he later denied that truce had been officially agreed.[67] The coalition's spokesman, Col. Ryan Dillon, denied that a ceasefire had been reached, retreating from his earlier announcement of a ceasefire between both sides, tweeting, "I incorrectly said in an interview with (Kurdish TV) Rudaw English that there was a cease-fire between Iraqi and Kurdish forces."[68] Iraqi PM al-Abadi later ordered a 24-hour truce to allow a peaceful deployment of Iraqi troops at border crossings with the Kurdistan region.[69]

    On 29 November, after claims of ethnic cleansing and the destruction of Kurdish homes, shops and businesses in Tuz Khurmatu and claims of discrimination and oppression against the Kurdish residents of the city by the PMU.[70] The 'Kurdistan Liberation Army' was formed composing of 200 Kurdish volunteers in Tuz Khurmatu. Clashes occurred, in which 8 PMU fighters were killed, and one Kurdish volunteer wounded.[71] Kurdistan24 posted footage of the fighting[72] and unverified graphic videos showed dead bodies of the Turkmen PMU stationed in Tuz Khurmatu. There had been clashes in Kirkuk between volunteers nearly every day in the previous month between Kurdish volunteers and PMU. A thread on Twitter has posted videos of these clashes.[73]

    On 6 December a policeman, Major Samer Abdel Nabi Jassam, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Kirkuk city, presumembly by DRK.[74] A day later, heavy fighting erupted in Kirkuk in which the DRK targeted an Iraqi Counter-Terrorism HQ with heavy weapons, RPG'S, grenades and rifle fire; the battle lasting an hour. Afrasiaw Kamil Waisi, Kirkuk police spokesperson stated that there was no casualties,[75] however other Kurdish sources claimed many Iraqi troops were killed and wounded.[76]

    On 12 December Iraqi helicopters bombed Dawouda and Zinana areas (Kurdish areas) for the first time since 1991 causing many Kurdish families to be displaced. This led to DRK retaliatory mortar fire against PMU forces inside Tuz Khurmatu causing many casualties amongst the PMU forces.[77]

    On 16 December a heavy firefight occurred after Kurdish volunteers inside Kirkuk used at least 5 RPG's and heavy weapons against 2 different Turkmen offices. Turkmen sources claim there were no casualties.[78]

    A day later, on 18 December, some Kurds in Kirkuk flew the Kurdish flag in schools and universities in Kirkuk and wore Kurdish clothes to celebrate the official Kurdistan Flag Day, leading to PMF forces arresting a number of young people involved.[79]

    Dialogue[edit]

    Iraqi and Peshmerga commanders held talks in Mosul on 28 October attempting to resolve the crisis over the disputed areas.[80] Amidst the crisis, KRG President Masoud Barzani announced on 29 October that he would not be asking parliament to renew his presidency when it expired on 1 November, transferring his presidential powers to the institutions of the KRG which include the legislature and judiciary.[81] Iraqi state TV meanwhile said that the second round of talks between both sides had started the same day.[82]

    On 31 October, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that Iraq had regained control of all disputed areas. At a press conference, al-Abadi also accused certain KRG-linked media outlets of "openly inciting violence against federal forces".[83] Abadi announced that the government planned to start paying the salaries of Peshmerga and civil servants working for KRG, stating, "We will soon be able to pay all the salaries of the Peshmerga and the employees of the region."[84]

    Anadolu News Agency meanwhile reported that Turkish and Iraqi forces had moved towards the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing that morning. The Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yıldırım told members of his Justice and Development Party in parliament that the border gate had been "handed over to the central government". An Iraqi border police captain showed images of the Iraqi flag flying at the crossing, saying that it was "officially under the full control of the Iraqi government." An Iraqi military statement however confirmed that only a delegation led by the chief-of-staff Othman al-Ghanmi had visited Ibrahim Khalil and Faysh Khabur to determine military and security requirements for taking control.[85] Iraqi troops were however deployed at the border crossing with Iraqi positions set up between Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish checkpoints, according to a security source in Baghdad. KRG officials meanwhile stated they had not relinquished control of the crossing, with Hoshyar Zebari stating that discussions were needed to allow Iraqi oversight at the border.[86]

    On 1 November, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command accused the Kurdish military of reneging on the draft agreement for the federal military to redeploy federal forces in disputed areas and border crossing points. It also accused them of moving their forces and building new defensive lines during the negotiation period to deter the redeployment of the federal Iraqi forces.[87] The JOC threatened to resume military operations to capture Kurdish-held territory.[88]

    The KRG on 2 November offered a joint deployment at Faysh Khabur, which its defense department stated was part of a "deconfliction" proposal on 31 October, including a ceasefire on all fronts, continued cooperation in fight against ISIL and joint deployment in disputed areas.[89] The KRG on the same day also accused the central Iraqi government of being "not interested" in joint deployment at the border with Turkey.[90]

    Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan Nechirvan Barzani stated on 6 November that the KRG would hand over the oil revenue in exchange for the central government agreeing to pay the customary 17% share of the federal budget.[91] The Supreme Federal Court ruled on the same day that no region or province could secede.[92] KRG stated on 14 November that it will accept the court's ruling.[93]

    Haider al-Abadi stated on 14 November that he would act soon over border areas under Kurdish control, but predicted Iraqi forces would regain them without violence. "We will regain control on border areas without escalation. But our patience will run out. We will not wait forever. We will take action."[94] The Iraqi Supreme Court ruled the referendum as unconstitutional and its results void on 20 November. Nechirvan Barzani meanwhile blamed the court of reaching the decsion unilaterally without any KRG input and asked for a third party to mediate in negotiations between central government and the KRG.[95]

    The central government later listed 13 preconditions for dialogue including, a handwritten note of annulment of the referendum, which the federal court ruled illegal and KRG respected the ruling but didn't formally renounce it. It also asked for guarantee of not seeking independence, handing over all border crossings and airports as well as all future federal revenues.[96] KRG agreed to the conditions and Abadi announced that talks will be resumed.[97] A MP of Abadi's ruling bloc stated on 4 January 2018 that a parliamentary committee would be set up to resolve all disputes. Meanwhile, a delegation of Kurdish parties met Abadi according to a statement by his office.[98]

    Abadi announced on 13 March that the airports of the region will be reopened to international flights, with flights possibly resuming in a week. The statement added that Kurdish authorities had agreed for the two airports in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah with international flights to come under federal control. Kurdish authorities confirmed that airports will come under federal control and would report to the central Interior Ministry.[99] The federal government announced on 19 March that it had paid salaries to employees in the region for the first time since 2014.[100]

    Reactions[edit]

    International[edit]

    •  Turkey: In a statement on 16 October 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it supported Iraq's move to "...restore peace and stability in the country, including Kirkuk...", and warned the KRG that it will be held responsible for allowing PKK to penetrate the city. It added that Turkey was closely monitoring Iraq's steps to "restore its constitutional sovereignty over Kirkuk, a homeland for Turkmens for centuries, after the illegitimate referendum conducted by the KRG."[101] Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ held KRG President Barzani responsible for regional disputes stating, "Barzani should own up to his mistakes. Only saying ‘I’ve frozen the referendum’ is not enough [...], the cancellation of the referendum is needed."[102]
    •  United States: President Donald Trump expressed disappointment that the two sides were fighting while stating that the United States was not taking sides.[103] The Pentagon urged Iraqi and Kurdish forces to avoid "additional escalatory actions" after a skirmish over Kirkuk city.[104] It described the Iraqi takeover of Kirkuk as a "coordinated movement, not attacks".[105] The State Department urged the Iraqi government to avoid clashes by limiting movement of federal troops to those coordinated with the KRG. It also added, "The reassertion of federal authority over disputed areas in no way changes their status – they remain disputed until their status is resolved in accordance with the Iraqi constitution."[106] Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on both parties to resolve the conflict through dialogue.[107]
    •  Iran: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi amidst Iraq's clashes with the Kurds. Office of the Supreme Leader of Iran issued a statement that Khamenei "gave his support for measures taken by the Iraqi government to defend the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq."[108]
    •  Germany: Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called on all parties to immediately halt the military actions and engage in direct dialogue. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced that Germany will suspend its mission to train Peshmerga because of the conflict.[109] On 20 October, a spokesman for the defense ministry said that the mission will be resumed if the clashes don't worsen.[110] The training mission was restarted later. The Defense Ministry spokesman said on 23 October that Germany will ensure that weapons supplied by it will only be used against ISIL.[111]
    •  France: Élysée Palace released a statement saying, "The president of the Republic asked for everything possible to be done to avoid conflict between Iraqis and that, within the limits of the unity of Iraq and its constitution, a dialogue taking account of the rights of the Kurds and the minorities should be held between Erbil [the Iraqi Kurdish capital] and Baghdad." President Emmanuel Macron welcomed establishment of a committee to discuss joint deployment of both sides in disputed areas.[112]
    •  Israel: According to Israeli officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was lobbying world powers to prevent further setbacks to Iraqi Kurds as they lose ground to Baghdad’s army. Israel is the only major power that has endorsed statehood for the Kurdish people.[113]
    •  Canada: The Canadian military suspended its support to Iraqi forces and Peshmerga amid the clashes.[114]

    Domestic[edit]

    • Iraqi Kurdistan Iraqi Kurdistan:
      • Opposition parties have demanded the dissolution of Barzani's administration.[115][116]
      • According to Nechirvan Barzani, the rival Talabani political family committed "a great and historic treason against Kurdistan".[25]
      • President Barzani on 29 October blamed the central government in Baghdad for the crisis, while addressing the Kurdistan region in the first televised speech since the independence referendum stating, "They (Baghdad) used the referendum as an excuse. Their bad intentions were very clear from a long time ago."[117]
      • Rival Kurdish factions accused each other of betraying Kirkuk to Iraqi forces.[25]
      • KRG Vice President Kosrat Rasul called the Iraqi forces in Kirkuk and other areas "invaders" ; for this, Iraq's Supreme Court Justice Council ordered his arrest.[39]
    •  Iraq:
      • In a statement, the Iraqi government accused Kurdish authorities of bringing fighters from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to the disputed province of Kirkuk, in a move it called a "declaration of war".[118]
      • Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR): In a statement on 16 October, the coalition announced that Coalition forces and advisors are not supporting Government of Iraq or Kurdistan Regional Government activities near Kirkuk and strongly urged all sides to avoid escalatory actions.[119]

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