Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Zimbabwe President Leaves for Uruguay to Address WHO Conference
October 17, 2017

President Mugabe talks to Vice Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko at Harare International Airport

Takunda Maodza News Editor—

PRESIDENT Mugabe left Harare yesterday for Uruguay where he will join other Heads of State and Government attending the World Health Organisation (WHO) conference on non-communicable diseases (NCDs). He was seen off at Harare International Airport by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, service chiefs and senior Government officials. VP Mnangagwa is Acting President.

The conference is running under the theme “Enhancing policy coherence between different spheres of policy making that have a bearing on attaining Strategic Development Goal target 3.4 on NCD by 2030”. SDG 3.4 by 2030 seeks to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by one-third through prevention and treatment and promoting mental health and well-being.

The conference seeks to provide guidance to member states on how to reach SDG target 3.4 by 2030 by influencing public policies in sectors beyond health and enhancing policy coherence. It also seeks to launch a set of new global initiatives to help countries accelerate progress in reducing premature mortality from NCDs and to fast-track efforts to attain SDG target 3.4.

The meeting will also see delegates exchanging national experiences in enhancing policy coherence to attain the voluntary global NCD targets for 2025. The conference will also highlight the health sector as the key advocate for enhancing coherence for the attainment of SDG target 3.4. Also expected to attend the conference are Ministers of health, agriculture, development cooperation, finance and foreign Affairs. The United Nations organisations, public policy decision makers, global experts and advocates and non-state actors will also attend the conference.

The conference is made up of three segments — the dialogue of member states, UN organisations and non-state actors; the ministerial segment for member states and UN organisations at the level of ministers and national NCD directors; and a high-level segment for member states and UN organisations at the level of Heads of State and Government and Heads of UN organisations.

The conference is being held at a time the world is burdened by NCDs like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular dieses and chronic respiratory ailments. NCDs killed 40 million globally in 2015, which represented 70 percent of all deaths worldwide. Zimbabwe has not been spared from the burden of NCDs like cancer and diabetes. Some interest groups are now proposing the establishment of a cancer levy to help raise resources to deal with the disease.

The conference will come up with a document that is expected to be endorsed by participants. The outcome document is also expected to serve as an input into the discussions at the 71st World Health Assembly on the preparations for the third High-level Meeting of the United General Assembly on NCDs in 2018.
Missile Production Will Not Stop Under Any Conditions: IRGC Commander
Mon Oct 16, 2017 06:21PM

The new Iranian long-range missile, Khorramshahr, was displayed in Tehran during the military parade marking the annual Sacred Defense Week, on September 22, 2017

The commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Division says Tehran will not stop boosting its missile capabilities under any circumstances, shrugging off US President Donald Trump’s call for constraints on Iran’s ballistic missile program.

“[Even] if a wall is constructed all around the country, the production of missiles will not be halted, because this is a completely indigenous and domestic industry,” Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said on Monday.

He added that the IRGC was defending the Iranian nation’s interests and would not be deceived by enemies, emphasizing that the IRGC would continue to boost its capabilities on a daily basis, because security is paramount in all conditions.

The IRGC commander played down concerns about a possible war against Iran, saying, “This is the enemy’s psychological warfare and our country is so strong that no one will dare attack or confront the Islamic Republic.”

Hajizadeh also pointed to Washington’s hostile approaches to Tehran adding: “The US enmity is
an unchangeable issue and strategy. [Therefore,] its tactics may change but the strategy itself never changes.”

He emphasized that US statesmen were under the influence of Zionists, saying, “Their core policies are dictated by the Zionists.”

The US president on October 13 refused to formally certify that Iran was complying with the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and warned that he might ultimately terminate the agreement.

While Trump did not pull Washington out of the nuclear deal, he gave the US Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions against Tehran that were lifted under the pact.

Reimposing sanctions would put the US at odds with other signatories to the accord and the European Union.

Trump also said his goal was to ensure Iran would never obtain a nuclear weapon, adding, "We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout."

Shortly after Trump’s anti-Iran speech, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani questioned the US motives in expressing concern over Iran's missile program, saying Washington was providing arms to "aggressive countries" to target innocent people in the region, including in Yemen.

He said, "Our missiles are for our defense and we have always endeavored for the production of our weapons and we will redouble our efforts from now on and will continue enhancing our defensive [prowess]."

Back in July, Hajizadeh said Iran was self-sufficient in producing various types of surface-to-surface missiles, drones and smart bombs.

“[Iran’s] self-sufficiency in manufacturing advanced surface-to-surface missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, smart bombs, radar and air defense systems, electronic warfare [devices] and other issues correctly proves that we can overcome all problems by relying on domestic capabilities,” he said.

A senior IRGC commander says Iran is self-sufficient in producing surface-to-surface missiles, drones, and smart bombs.

Iran has recently made major breakthroughs in its defense sector and attained self-sufficiency in producing important military equipment and hardware. The Islamic Republic says its military power poses no threat to other countries and is merely based on the doctrine of deterrence.

The "Khorramshahr" ballistic missile, which has a range of 2000 kilometers, is capable of carrying multiple warheads.

Iran on September 22 unveiled a new ballistic missile, named Khorramshahr, which has a range of 2,000 kilometers and is capable of carrying multiple warheads.
Syria Intercepts Israeli Warplanes Near Lebanese Border: Army
Mon Oct 16, 2017 05:59PM

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet is seen as Israeli soldiers take part in a training session in the Mediterranean Sea on April 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The Syrian army says its air defense has responded to an Israeli aerial violation of the Arab country’s territory in the vicinity of the Lebanese border, hitting an intruding warplane and forcing the fighter jets to retreat.

According to a statement released by Syria’s General Command of the Army and Armed Forces, carried by the country’s official news agency, SANA, an undeclared number of Israeli warplanes violated Syria’s airspace on the border with Lebanon in Baalbek area at 08:51 a.m. local time on Monday.

An anti-aircraft battery of the Syrian army, located some 50 kilometers from the capital Damascus, then “responded and directly hit one of the jets, forcing [the enemy] to flee,” the statement further read, adding that the Israeli jets returned fire at 11:38 a.m. local time by firing multiple missiles from inside the occupied territories that hit a Syrian army position in the countryside of the capital, resulting in material damage.

The army further threatened Israel with “dangerous repercussions” for the airstrikes and its repeated aerial aggression attempts, stressing Syria’s determination to continue its war against the terrorist groups, “Israel’s arm in the region.”

The Israeli military, for its part, issued a statement later in the day, saying that the fleet in fact consisted of Israeli reconnaissance planes, which “were in the skies over Lebanon, and not in Syria.”

It added that neither of the Israeli warplanes sustained damage in the process and returned home “safely.”

An Israeli warplane conducts airstrikes in the occupied Golan Heights after a Patriot anti-ballistic missile allegedly destroys a reconnaissance drone from Syria.

During the past few years, Israel has frequently attacked military targets in Syria in what is considered as an attempt to prop up terrorist groups that have been suffering heavy defeats in their fight against Syrian government forces.

Back in April 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially admitted for the first time that the regime's military had conducted strikes in Syrian territory. 

Damascus says Israel and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups operating inside the Arab country, while the Tel Aviv regime's military carries out such sporadic strikes against Syrian government forces. The Israeli regime has even set up field hospitals to treat wounded militants evacuated from Syria.

Moreover, the Syrian army has repeatedly seized huge quantities of Israeli-made weapons and advanced military equipment from the foreign-backed militants inside Syria.
Iraqi Forces Retake Military Base, Strategic Sites in Kirkuk
Mon Oct 16, 2017 11:42AM

Members of Iraqi federal forces gather near oil fields in Kirkuk, October 16, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Iraqi forces have gained control of the main military base in Kirkuk as well as other strategic locations in the oil-rich province from Kurdish fighters.

The operation is carried out to take key areas in the disputed region following last month’s referendum held for possible secession of the Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command (JOC) said on Monday that "anti-terrorist units" had captured the K1 military base northwest of Kirkuk city following the withdrawal of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

The militants moved into Kirkuk in 2014, capitalizing on a quick withdrawal of Iraqi troops from the city amid Daesh assaults.

The JOC, which groups all pro-government forces, also said that it was making progress in its operation to "restore security" to Kirkuk.

After the capture of the military base, the Iraqi forces managed to take control of the headquarters for Iraqi state-owned North Oil Company and a nearby refinery from Kurdish forces without fighting. The central government troops also took the nearby Baba Gurgur field from the Kurds.

Despite the ongoing operation, oil and natural gas production from the region is proceeding normally, an official within the Iraqi Oil Ministry said.

''Kurdish leaders, we consider as our brothers, have agreed to hand over control of North Oil and North Gas company facilities who belong to the state,'' a military commander involved in the operation said.

"We have an agreement with some Kurdish leaders that the oil and gas facilities should stay out of the conflict," the ministry official said.

Members of Iraqi federal forces enter oil fields in Kirkuk, October 16, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
The JOC further noted that the central government forces had gained control of two bridges, two roads and an industrial zone to the southwest of Kirkuk.

The Iraqi troops also took control of a power station, a police station and three areas in the province.

The advances came hours after artillery fire was exchanged between Iraqi and Kurdish forces early Monday south of the city.

Tensions are high between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the controversial referendum.

The plebiscite took place on September 25, sparking strong objection from Baghdad. Iraq’s neighbors and the international community also voiced concerns about the repercussions of the vote, which was only supported by Israel.

Kurdish leaders have coveted Kirkuk, with some 10 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves, for long and described it as part of their proper even as, roughly two-thirds of the city's population are non-Kurd. 
Kurdish Leaders Reject Baghdad’s Demand to Cancel Referendum Results
Sun Oct 15, 2017 03:13PM

Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani (C) sits next to Iraqi President Fuad Masum during a ceremony at the airport in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah following the arrival of deceased former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani's coffin on October 6, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Kurdish leaders have dismissed the Iraqi government’s demand that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) annul the results of last month’s independence referendum in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

During a meeting between KRG President Massoud Barzani, Iraqi President Fuad Masum and Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, the widow of deceased former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, in the Kurdish town of Dokan on Sunday, Kurdish leaders renewed their offer to “resolve peacefully” the crisis with Baghdad.

However, they rejected what they described as “military threats” from Iraqi forces against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and pledged to defend the Kurdistan region in case of an offensive, Barzani's aide, Hemin Hawrami, wrote on his Twitter page.

The report came shortly after Mala Karim, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) official, told Arabic-language al-Ghad Press news agency that Iraqi Turkmen fighters from the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) had taken control of the Kurdish political party’s organizational committee headquarters in the ethnically-mixed city of Tuz Khurmatu, located some 88 kilometers south of Kirkuk.

He added that the pro-government PMU forces -- better known by their Arabic name as Hashd al-Sha’abi – had established their control over the building after PUK members evacuated it.

Karim stressed that there was no gun battle between Turkmen fighters and Kurdish forces.

The referendum on secession of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region was held on September 25 despite strong opposition from the central government in Baghdad, the international community, and Iraq's neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran.

Following the vote, Baghdad imposed a ban on direct international flights to the Kurdish region and called for a halt to its independent crude oil sales.

On October 12, an Iraqi government spokesman said Baghdad had set a series of conditions that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) needed to meet before any talks on the resolution of the referendum crisis could start.

 “The KRG must first commit to Iraq's unity. The local authorities in the [Kurdistan] region … must accept the sovereign authority of the federal government on … oil exports, [as well as] security and border protection, including land and air entry points,” the unnamed Iraqi official added.

The remarks came in response to an offer for dialogue made earlier by Kurdish authorities.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has already demanded the annulment of the referendum results.

During a recent press conference in Paris, Abadi said his government did not seek confrontation with Iraqi Kurds, but reiterated Baghdad’s position that the referendum was illegal and that problems should be solved within the framework of Iraq’s constitution.
Iraqi Forces Take Control of ‘Vast’ Regions in Disputed Kirkuk
Sun Oct 15, 2017 09:56PM

Iraqi forces drive towards Kurdish peshmerga positions on October 15, 2017, on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. (Photo by AFP)

Iraqi forces say they have taken control of “vast areas” of Kirkuk following clashes with Kurdish Peshmerga forces who had occupied the oil-rich region.

The move was announced via Iraqi state TV early on Monday, shortly after reports of government forces advancing towards strategic locations such as airfields and airbases located to the west of the city.

According to Kurdish and Iraqi officials, artillery fire is being exchanged with government forces to the south of the city.

A Kurdish security official has denied that Iraqi forces were able to get closer to the city or take territory from the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

Baghdad says the PKK militants were among Kurdish forces in a standoff with the Iraqi army in Kirkuk.

The televised report noted that the orders for the military "to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with the population and the Peshmerga" had been given by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The developments occurred several hours after Iraq’s central government accused Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities of bringing militants from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to the Kirkuk, saying it considered the move as a "declaration of war."

The Iraqi government has announced that it will impose its authority over Kirkuk and other disputed areas.

The statement came just hours before the expiry of a deadline for Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to withdraw from strategic areas in Kirkuk.

US calls for de-escalation of situation

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has called on Iraqi and Kurdish forces to "avoid escalatory actions" and revert to negotiations to defuse tensions and solve their problems.

"We oppose violence from any party, and urge against destabilizing actions that distract from the fight against Daesh and further undermine Iraq's stability," said Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal.

"We continue to support a unified Iraq…Despite the Kurdistan Regional Government's unfortunate decision to pursue a unilateral referendum, dialogue remains the best option to defuse ongoing tensions and longstanding issues, in accordance with the Iraqi constitution," she added.

The latest incidents come amid simmering tensions between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over a recent controversial referendum on the secession of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region.

The plebiscite took place on September 25, sparking strong objection from Baghdad. Iraq’s neighbors and the international community also voiced concerns about the repercussions of the vote, which was only supported by Israel.

Kirkuk, with some 10 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves, has long been contested by Baghdad and Erbil.
Iraqi Government: PKK Presence in Kirkuk Amounts to Declaration of War
Sun Oct 15, 2017 06:30PM

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters stand on the rooftop of a building on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk, October 15, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The Iraqi government has accused authorities of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of bringing militants from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to the disputed oil province of Kirkuk, saying it considered the move as a "declaration of war."

Iraq's National Security Council, headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, said in a statement on Sunday that the presence of "fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk" was a "dangerous escalation."

"It is impossible to remain silent" when faced with "a declaration of war towards Iraqis and government forces," the statement said, adding, "The central government and regular forces will carry out their duty of defending the Iraqi people in all its components including the Kurds, and of defending Iraq's sovereignty and unity."

The Iraqi government has said that it will seek to impose its authority over Kirkuk and other disputed areas.

The statement came just hours before the expiry of a deadline for Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to withdraw from strategic areas in Kirkuk.

Iraqi soldiers stand next to vehicles mounted with rocket launchers heading to Kurdish Peshmerga positions on October 15, 2017, on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. (Photo by AFP)
Kurdish fighters have already rejected a call from the Iraqi government forces to withdraw from a strategic location in Kirkuk’s southern region. Earlier on Sunday, a Kurdish security official announced that Peshmerga fighters had not withdrawn from a key junction south of Kirkuk.

Peshmerga forces moved into Kirkuk in 2014, when Daesh Takfiri terrorist group launched an offensive across Iraq.

Iraqi Kurds deny presence of PKK militants

Later on Sunday, Kurdish Iraqi officials denied that any PKK militants were present in Kirkuk.

"There are no PKK forces in Kirkuk, but there are some volunteers who sympathize with the PKK," said General Jabar Yawer, the secretary general of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga Ministry.

Tensions have been simmering between the central government in Baghdad and the KRG over a recent controversial referendum on the secession of the region.

The plebiscite took place on September 25, drawing strong objection from Baghdad. Iraq’s neighbors and the international community also voiced concern about the repercussions of the vote, which was only supported by Israel.

On Sunday, Kurdish leaders dismissed the Iraqi government’s demand that the KRG annul the results of last month’s independence referendum.
Imperialists Rationalize Continuing Iraq Occupation Despite a Quarter Century of Repeated Failures
Why the United States Should Not Leave

By Emma Sky
Foreign Policy

PANW Editor's Note: This convoluted report represents the complete intellectual bankruptcy of imperialism in relationship to the situation in the Middle East. After repeated wars and occupations since 1990-91, the United States imperialists through successive administrations have brought about the deaths of several million people and the displacement of millions more. The article below provides a glimpse into why the Pentagon will suffer a total military defeat in the region before it can bring itself to make a complete withdrawal.
In July 2017, Iraqi soldiers, backed by U.S. air strikes, liberated Mosul, the city where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), had declared a caliphate just three years before. It was a hard-won victory. For nine grueling months, Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service, an elite group of U.S.- trained forces, suffered heavy losses as they fought street by street to uproot ISIS fighters, who used the local population as human shields. Thousands of civilians were killed, and a million or so were displaced from their homes. Mosul’s historic monuments have been destroyed. And the city’s infrastructure lies in tatters.

But there is also much to celebrate. The liberation of Mosul ended a reign of terror that saw children brainwashed in schools, smokers publicly flogged, Yazidi women reduced to sex slaves, and gay men thrown from rooftops. The victory also struck a devastating blow to ISIS, killing thousands of its fighters, shrinking its resources, crushing its organizational capacity, and diminishing its global appeal.

With a military victory in hand, U.S. President Donald Trump might want to declare “mission accomplished” and seek a hasty exit from Iraq. Fourteen years after the U.S. invasion, that choice is no doubt tempting. But making it would be a dangerous mistake.

As much as Trump and other Americans may wish to end any involvement, what happens in Iraq does not stay in Iraq. ISIS has lost most of the territory it controlled in the country and is severely weakened as an organization, but the group retains the capacity to conduct attacks internationally. And U.S. support is still needed to strengthen the Iraqi state and to discourage other countries in the region from filling the power vacuum. The collapse of Iraq was instrumental in the unraveling of regional order; its stability is key to restoring a balance of power.


In March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq on the assumption (which later proved incorrect) that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. Military success was quick—the U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam’s government within a few weeks—but political success proved more elusive. In 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority dismissed Iraqi civil servants and dissolved the security forces. These decisions led to the collapse of the state and civil war, which allowed al Qaeda in Iraq to gain a foothold and Iran to expand its influence. During U.S. President George W. Bush’s second term, however, the United States managed to reverse a seemingly bleak prognosis. The surge of additional U.S. troops into the country in 2007, combined with the cooperation of Sunni tribes (the so-called Sunni Awakening), dramatically reduced sectarian violence and brought about the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq.

When U.S. President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, both the Americans and the Iraqis believed that the sectarian civil war was over and that the country was finally on the right track. But rather than capitalizing on these successes to cajole Iraqi politicians toward compromise, the Obama administration disengaged. The 2010 Iraqi election marked an inflection point. When Iraqiya, the nationalist, nonsectarian political party led by Ayad Allawi, narrowly defeated the Dawa Party, led by Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister, the Obama administration failed to uphold the right of the winning bloc to have the first go at forming a government. Instead, it signaled its desire to keep Maliki in power, despite the stipulations of the Iraqi constitution and the objections of Iraqi politicians.

The Obama administration insisted that Maliki was an Iraqi nationalist and a friend of the United States. But in reality, the decision to keep him in place played into the hands of Iran. Tehran pressured the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, one of Maliki’s most outspoken foes, to align his powerful political bloc with Maliki’s coalition, a move that was instrumental in securing another term for the prime minister. In exchange for Iran’s help in forging the alliance with Sadr, Maliki agreed to ensure the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by 2011, when the status-of-forces agreement between the two countries was set to expire.

Instead of marking the peaceful transition of power in a new democratic system, the 2010 election undermined confidence that change could come about through politics. Secure in his seat for a second term, Maliki reneged on his promises to the Sunni Awakening. He labeled Sunni politicians as “terrorists,” driving them out of the political process, and he ordered the security forces to violently crush Sunni dissent. In so doing, Maliki created conditions that allowed a new group to rise up out of the ashes of al Qaeda in Iraq. ISIS, as it came to be known, proclaimed itself the defender of Sunnis against Maliki’s regime. Feeling betrayed and discriminated against by the government, many Sunnis determined that ISIS was the lesser of two evils.

Maliki further undermined Iraq’s fledgling democratic institutions by politicizing them. These moves were particularly damaging to the military, where Maliki replaced many effective Iraqi security forces commanders—whom he regarded as too close to the Americans—with loyalists.

The Obama administration’s decision to disengage from Iraq ultimately brought about conditions that required it to reengage. The Obama administration’s decision to disengage from Iraq ultimately brought about conditions that required it to reengage. By 2014, ISIS had taken control of a third of the country, and the Iraqi army—trained and equipped by the United States at a cost of billions of dollars—had disintegrated, leaving behind its U.S.-supplied equipment for ISIS to capture. Confronted with a well-armed terrorist group and a weak state whose army had collapsed, the Obama administration withdrew its support from Maliki and demanded that he be replaced before once again dispatching U.S. forces to Iraq.


Now, with ISIS unseated from Mosul and the 2018 elections on the horizon, Iraq has reached another inflection point. The current fragmentation of Iraq’s political landscape provides a chance for meaningful cross-sectarian coalition building. But there is also a risk that other countries in the region might seize the opportunity to increase their influence as Iraqi politicians compete with one another for power.

Maliki’s replacement as prime minister, Haider al-Abadi has sought to balance American and Iranian support and has tried to remain neutral in regional power struggles. He has also adopted a much more inclusive approach to domestic politics. To stay in power, he might form political alliances with a range of factions. One potential ally is Sadr, who has already announced his intention to form a political alliance with Allawi, the politician whose coalition defeated Maliki in 2010. Abadi may also find allies among Shiite Islamist political parties, such as the newly formed al-Hikma group, led by Ammar al-Hakim. The recent victory against ISIS has strengthened Abadi’s position, but he still needs to build up his own power base.

Abadi also faces strong competition. Still smarting from being deposed, Maliki is constantly working to undermine Abadi and advance his anti-American and pro-Iranian agenda. Another key player is Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization, a Shiite militia–cum–political party intent on deepening Iraq’s ties to Iran and attacking secular activists.

Sunni leaders, meanwhile, remain divided and disgraced, and the old guard has been unwilling to step aside to allow a younger generation of politicians to emerge. Shiite leaders accuse the Sunnis of being beholden to neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey—a fear stoked by the Sunnis’ habit of holding political conferences abroad. Further complicating reconciliation is the desire for revenge against those who collaborated with ISIS and a widespread suspicion that many Sunnis initially welcomed ISIS into their cities.


The Kurds, in contrast, find themselves in a stronger position, which they hope to leverage in their bid for independence. Kurdish ambitions for statehood date back to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, when the imperial powers drew new borders in the Middle East. Despite promises to the contrary, the Kurds did not receive a country; instead, their lands were incorporated into Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.

But over the last few years, their situation has changed. During the campaign against ISIS, the Iraqi Kurds received weapons directly from the international community (rather than through Baghdad), and they were able to extend the territory under their control to include the multiethnic and oil-rich city of Kirkuk. These developments generated momentum, which led Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, to schedule a referendum on independence for September 25, 2017.

To achieve independence, however, the Kurds must surmount numerous obstacles, both internal and external. Iran and Turkey both strongly objected to the referendum out of the fear that it might strengthen the Kurdish secessionist movements in their respective countries. The United States also continues to support a unified Iraq, and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pushed the Kurds to postpone their referendum. Meanwhile, Barzani faces challenges at home, as well. He has overstayed his legally mandated term as president, and young Kurds in particular have grown increasingly critical of his government’s corruption and mismanagement. To make matters worse, low oil prices and ongoing disputes with Baghdad have left the salaries of many Iraqi Kurds unpaid and lowered the standard of living.


In Iraq, domestic political dynamics are inextricably linked to circumstances beyond the country’s borders. Concern about the level of Iranian influence is particularly widespread. During the campaign to defeat ISIS, Iran not only provided military advisers; it also supported certain Shiite militias, which it wants to maintain in order to extend its political influence in Baghdad and secure the land route from Iran to Lebanon.

In Iraq, domestic political dynamics are inextricably linked to circumstances beyond the country’s borders.

These Iranian-backed militias are part of the so-called Popular Mobilization Units, which were formed in response to the 2014 fatwa of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that called on Iraqis to rise up to defend their country against ISIS. Because of their role in preventing ISIS from marching on Baghdad, the Popular Mobilization Units enjoy wide support on the Shiite street, and some of their leaders are now looking to convert their military successes into political power. But these militias undermine the legitimacy of the state; their continued presence keeps Iraq from becoming strong enough to push back against Iranian influence. And widely disseminated reports of the torture and murder of ISIS suspects at their hands have instilled fear among the Sunni population.

Despite having welcomed Tehran’s support in the past, the Iraqi leadership is now taking steps to balance Iranian influence by making significant overtures to Saudi Arabia. In February 2017, Adel al-Jubeir became the first Saudi foreign minister to visit Baghdad since Iraq and Saudi Arabia cut ties in 1990, when Saddam invaded Kuwait. Later in 2017, Abadi and Qassim al-Araji, Iraq’s interior minister, each paid separate visits to Riyadh. Even Sadr, a Shiite cleric, visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in August 2017, where he presented himself as an Arab and Iraqi nationalist, thus poking Iran in the eye.

For now, however, Tehran still has the upper hand. Iran has taken advantage of Iraq’s volatility to cultivate clients in Baghdad and establish land corridors to the Mediterranean Sea. These moves are not simply about resupplying Shiite militias such as Hezbollah or evading sanctions by establishing a presence beyond Iran’s official borders. They are also a reflection of Tehran’s ambition to extend its sphere of influence and create strategic depth. Iran is now the external power with the most influence in both Iraq and Syria. Left unchecked, this could lead not just to an Iranian-Saudi confrontation but to an Iranian-Israeli one as well. Increased Iranian power in the region exacerbates Israel’s fear that destructive weapons in Syria might fall into the hands of its enemies, many of whom are supported by Tehran. Already, Israel has launched strikes against several Syrian military bases that are known to produce chemical weapons and other sophisticated tools of war.


So what should Washington do? Both Bush and Obama made disastrous decisions on Iraq during their first terms. It was only in their second terms that they came up with sensible policies to address their mistakes. These initial missteps cost the United States influence and credibility. But given the importance of U.S. military support in the fight against ISIS, Washington has new leverage, and it should take care not to squander it. The defeat of ISIS in Mosul should not lull the Trump administration into a false sense of security. As the past decade and a half have made clear, nothing in Iraq is irreversible.

That includes Iranian gains. To reverse those, Iraqi politicians will have to reach an agreement on politically sensitive questions such as the nature of governance and resource distribution in order make the central government less vulnerable to external meddling. This, in turn, will require a commitment to strengthening institutions, imposing the rule of law, and cracking down on corruption. (Iraq ranks 166th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.)

The United States can help. But doing so would require it to view its national interests in Iraq through a wider lens than simply counterterrorism. This would entail sustained support for Iraqi institutions and a greater commitment to pushing back against Iranian expansionism, which is in itself one of the factors that rallies Sunni extremists.

In terms of Iraqi institutions, the United States should prioritize providing security assistance to the security forces and intelligence services that have proved themselves in the rollback of ISIS. Support for the Counter Terrorism Service has arguably been the most successful U.S. initiative in Iraq since 2003. Composed of Iraqis of all different backgrounds, the Counter Terrorism Service maintained morale and cohesion despite enduring heavy losses in the brutal battle to liberate Mosul. U.S. support for these forces should be continued and reinforced.

To secure the recent military gains, the United States should also help build the capacity of Iraqi battalions to control the western desert between Iraq and Syria and help bolster Iraq’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. To increase the legitimacy of the state, Washington should advise security-sector reform, including bringing militias supportive of the state into the fold of the Iraqi security forces—while disarming, demobilizing, and reintegrating into Iraqi society those loyal to Iran.

All this assistance need not entail thorny negotiations; nor would such support require U.S. bases or combat forces. The United States can work toward these goals with advisers and trainers under the terms of the existing Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq.

The United States must also develop a clear Kurdish policy. If separation is to occur—whether in the form of confederation or independence—the process should be negotiated between Baghdad and Erbil, endorsed by neighboring countries, and recognized by the international community. Either way, the United States should support the revitalization of the UN’s efforts to determine, district by district, the border between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. This process should also consider granting Kirkuk special status in recognition of its diverse population, contested history, and oil wealth. No Iraqi prime minister can afford to lose Kirkuk. International mediation could help broker a compromise.

While the negotiations are ongoing, Washington should help reduce the risk of conflict between Arabs and Kurds. In 2009, during another period of heightened tensions, the U.S. military facilitated cooperation between the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish peshmerga in the disputed territories. Going forward, the United States should again help the Iraqis coordinate among the different security forces active in the area, which now also include the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK (the Turkish Kurdish guerrilla group), and the Popular Mobilization Units. And when approaching the Kurdish question, Washington must remain mindful of Turkey’s concerns in order to alleviate the risk that Turkish forces will intervene in northeastern Syria or that Turkey will gravitate toward Iran and Russia.

No plan for Iraq is complete without taking into account the regional context. Building on Iraq’s improving relations with Sunni countries, the United States needs to encourage Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to support Abadi’s government by investing in the reconstruction of Mosul and other areas devastated by ISIS. Mosul was once renowned across the region as a cosmopolitan city, with an excellent university, a successful merchant class, and a diverse population of Arabs, Christians, Kurds, Shabaks, Turkmen, and Yazidis. Its reconstruction would restore pride and provide young Iraqis with opportunities to live for rather than dystopian causes to die for. Such assistance, provided through the Iraqi government, would help balance Iranian influence and give Iraqi Sunnis hope for a better future.

Many of Trump’s aides have considerable experience with Iraq, including James Mattis, his secretary of defense; H. R. McMaster, his national security adviser; and John Kelly, his chief of staff. One can hope that Trump’s advisers might push him to select the least bad options from the choices available. But implementing the resulting policies would require a skillful secretary of state supported by a strong State Department. And at the moment, the State Department lacks the resources to play that crucial role.

The Trump administration should learn from the mistakes of the past. At the end of the day, ISIS is not the cause of Iraq’s problems but a symptom of failed governance. And if the United States disengages now, Trump’s successor may have to put American boots on the ground yet again, to fight the son of ISIS.∂
Iraq Made 'Declaration of War' When Its Troops Seized Parts of Oil-rich Region, Kurdish Forces Say
Iraq's national army advance and take areas in and around the oil city of Kirkuk.
Oil prices jump on the news, with U.S. crude rising toward a six-month high.
There were only limited reports of Kurdish peshmerga fighters resisting the Iraqi troops.

Ted Kemp| Tom DiChristopher
Published 10:04 PM ET Sun, 15 Oct 2017

Iraqi forces drive towards Kurdish peshmerga positions on October 15, 2017, on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE | AFP | Getty Images

Iraqi forces drive towards Kurdish peshmerga positions on October 15, 2017, on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk.

Iraqi army units have seized positions in and around Kirkuk, a major oil city that's dominated by the country's Kurdish people, who voted for independence last month.

Iraq's U.S.-trained Counter Terrorism Service has taken control of the provincial government headquarters in Kirkuk, and the Iraqi flag is flying over disputed areas, Reuters reported. The Iraqi national army also took over the North Oil Company, a refinery in Kirkuk, oil fields and an air base, according to news agencies.

Reports indicated that the Iraqi troops had not faced significant opposition from Kurdish peshmerga militia fighters in the area. However, the General Command of the Peshmerga Forces responded strongly to the advance, local news reported.

"The attack is a clear declaration of war against the people of the Kurdistan Region," the General Command said in a statement.

The Iraqi units went on the move toward Kirkuk around midnight local time in order to "safeguard" the area, military commanders said.

An aid group said several peshmerga fighters and Iraqi soldiers had been killed in a clash south of Kirkuk overnight, according to Reuters. There were no other reports of fatalities.

The U.S. Central Command, which coordinates the campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, said it was aware of gunfire exchanges overnight. The engagement appeared to be a misunderstanding that occurred in the dark of night, it said on its website.

"We continue to advocate dialogue between Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. All parties must remain focused on the defeat of our common enemy, ISIS, in Iraq," Maj. Gen. Robert White said in a statement.

The Iraqi military said it encountered only light resistance as it took over the oil installations and the Kurdish-controlled K-1 air base, which used to be an Iraqi air force facility, Dow Jones reported.

Oil prices reacted strongly to the news, with Brent crude rising as high as $58.47 a barrel on Monday. U.S. oil futures peaked at $52.37 level.

"Just as the battle against ISIS seems to be finally ending, there is a new theater of battle emerging in Northern Iraq," John Kilduff, partner at energy-focused investment manager Again Capital, told CNBC.

The Iraqi maneuvers come after Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and other Kurdish-dominated areas including Kirkuk held an independence referendum last month.

The Kurds are a separate ethnic group from the Arabs and are primarily Sunni Muslims. The Iraqi army is dominated by Arabs who are Shiite Muslims.

In a Friday research note, risk consulting firm Eurasia Group warned that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi "is increasingly committed to re-establishing central government control over the territories contested by Baghdad" and the Kurds.

Potentially big implications for oil

Iraq is OPEC's the second-biggest oil producer. Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq are among the most productive in the country and contain much of its energy infrastructure.

"Oil prices could spike a lot higher on this development because this time is different, after years of war in the region. The battle, finally, is for the oil, and no other reason. In other words, here we go," Kilduff said.

Kilduff added that oil infrastructure, which was largely spared in previous fighting, "will likely be the main target this time around."

The Pentagon has urged both sides to "avoid additional escalatory actions" and warned that it opposed any destabilizing actions that detracted the fight against Islamic State militants, Reuters reported on Monday.

Kurds want independence, but the world balks

The Kurds have pressed for their own nation-state for more than a century, but that movement gained momentum after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the rise of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, that followed.

Kurdish fighters were among the most effective troops for the Iraqi government during the Iraq War, and they have easily been the most successful force on the ground against ISIS, which swept the regular Iraqi army from the field in 2014.

"In the summer of 2014, Kurdish forces exploited the collapse of the Iraqi army in northern parts of the country to move into areas claimed both by the region and by federal authorities, especially oil-rich Kirkuk. The central government remains unlikely to accept this presence," Eurasia Group said.

Kurdistan includes parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Kurdish independence is opposed by every major player in the region — even including the United States, which has fought closely alongside the Kurds since 2003.

"The Kurds have no friends — Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Russia, and the U.S., among others, have decried their independence push," Kilduff said.

—CNBC's Patti Domm contributed to this report
Iraq Seizes Kirkuk from Kurds Leaving Two US Allies Locked in Conflict and Bringing End to Move for Independence
Century-old movement for Kurdish independence suffers a calamitous defeat as military reaction to referendum leads to fall of city

Patrick Cockburn @indyworld
Independent, UK

Iraqi forces seized the Kirkuk governor's office, key military sites and an oil field as they swept across the disputed province following soaring tensions over an independence referendum AFP/Getty

Elite Iraqi security forces have captured the Kurdish government headquarters buildings in the centre of Kirkuk with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordering the Iraqi flag to be raised over Kirkuk and other disputed territories. An Iraqi Oil Ministry official said that it would be “a very short time” before the Iraqi military seized all the oilfields in Kirkuk province.

The century-old movement for Kurdish independence has suffered  a calamitous defeat as Iraqi military forces retake the Kirkuk oil province, facing little resistance so far from the Peshmerga fighters. Kurdish officials accuse part of the forces belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish parties, of “treason” in not resisting the Iraqi assault.

Iraqi Kurdish dreams of achieving real independence depended on controlling the oil wealth of Kirkuk which is now lost to them, probably forever. Such autonomy as they did have will be curtailed, with Turkey announcing that it will hand over control of the border gate between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan to the central government in Baghdad.

The Iraqi government operation began early on Monday morning as troops swiftly seized two major oilfields and the headquarters of the North Oil Company. A convoy of armoured vehicles from Baghdad’s highly-trained and experienced Counter-Terrorism Force, which led the attack in the battle for Mosul, drove unopposed to the quarter of Kirkuk occupied by the governor’s office and other administration buildings.

Iraqi oil officials in Baghdad say that the Kurdish authorities of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had tried to close down oil production by evacuating oil workers  but that output would soon be resumed. The Kurds seized Kirkuk city in 2003 at the time of the US invasion and expanded their area of control in 2014 when the Iraqi army in northern was defeated by Isis.

The streets in Kirkuk city were deserted in the morning as people stayed in their houses or fled to KRG territory further north. So far there has been little shooting as the Peshmerga abandoned their positions in what appears to have been a prearranged withdrawal. The city has a population of one million made up of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, the latter two communities hostile to Kurdish rule. A resident of Kirkuk said today that ethnic Turkmen were firing guns into the air in celebration of the takeover by government forces. 

Mr Abadi told his security forces in a statement read on state television “to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with the population of the city and the Peshmerga”. He called on the Peshmerga to serve under federal authority as part of the Iraqi armed forces. Coming after the recapture of Mosul from Isis in July after a nine-month siege, Mr Abadi will be politically strengthened by his victory over the Kurds whose commanders had promised to defend Kirkuk to the end.

The speed and success of the Iraqi military advance against negligible resistance so far is a blow to President Masoud Barzani who ignited the present crisis. He did so by holding a referendum on Kurdish independence on 25 September that was greeted with enthusiasm by Iraqi Kurds. But it was adamantly opposed by the Iraqi central government, Iran, Turkey as well as traditional Kurdish allies such as the US and Europeans, leaving Mr Barzani isolated in the face of superior forces.

The referendum is seen, even by many of those who originally supported it, as a disastrous miscalculation by Mr Barzani. Kamran Kardaghi, a Kurdish commentator and former chief of staff to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who died last week says that “the Kurdish leadership never expected that there would be such consequences to the referendum.” Omar Sheikhmous, a veteran Kurdish leader, warned before the referendum that it might turn out to be one of the classic misjudgements in Iraqi history, comparing it to Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He feared the referendum, guaranteed to alienate all the Kurds’allies, would turn out to a political error with similar calamitous consequences.

The withdrawal of part of the Kurdish forces is ultimately a reflection of deep divisions between the Kurdish leaders and their parties, whose rivalry has always been intense. The two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), founded and led for decades by Jalal Talabani, have always had separate armed forces, intelligence and political management. The KDP, strongest in west Kurdistan, fought a savage civil war with the PUK, based in the east, in the 1990s. Kirkuk was always considered PUK territory, though its PUK governor, Najmaldin Karim, has recently inclined towards support for Mr Barzani’s policies.

Part of the PUK, much divided since its leader Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke and sank into a coma, opposed the independence referendum as a manoeuvre by Mr Barzani to present himself as the great Kurdish nationalist leader. Ala Talabani, leader of the PUK parliamentary delegation in Baghdad, was shocked at the funeral of her uncle,  former Iraq president Jalal Talabani last Friday, to find that the Iraqi flag had been removed from the coffin and there was only a Kurdish flag.

The US has been closely allied to the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, but strongly opposed the independence referendum which it saw as provocative and divisive. Washington has called for “all parties to immediately cease military action and restore calm,” adding that Isis remained the true enemy of all parties in Iraq and they should focus on its elimination. 

President Trump’s denunciation of Iran when he decertified the deal over its nuclear programme last Friday could have energised Iran, traditionally a supporter of the PUK, to back an Iraqi government offensive in Kirkuk. The Iranians have always been worried about Iraqi Kurdistan becoming a base for US forces that could be used against us.

A simpler explanation for what happened is that the Kurdish leadership was more divided than expected and the Iraqi armed forces stronger, while Mr Barzani had alienated his traditional allies. A meeting of Kurdish leaders attended by Kurdish leaders on Sunday called for mediation and a non-military solution to the crisis, but by then it was too late.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Iraqi Forces Seize Oil City Kirkuk From Kurds
 Maher Chmaytelli and Mustafa Mahmoud

Iraqi security forces and Popular Mobilization Forces patrol in Tuz Khormato, that was evacuated by Kurdish security forces, 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. AP Photo

BAGHDAD/KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi government forces captured the major Kurdish-held oil city of Kirkuk on Monday, responding to a Kurdish referendum on independence with a bold lightning strike that transforms the balance of power in the country.

A convoy of armored vehicles from Iraq’s elite U.S.-trained Counter-Terrorism Force seized Kirkuk’s provincial government headquarters on Monday afternoon, less than a day after the operation began, a Reuters reporter in Kirkuk said.

Neither side gave a casualty toll for the operation. But an aid group working in Kirkuk said several Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi soldiers had been killed in an overnight clash south of the city - the only serious fighting reported.

As Iraqi forces advanced, Kurdish operators briefly shut some 350,000 barrels per day of oil output at two large Kirkuk fields, citing security concerns, oil ministry sources on both sides said. But production resumed shortly thereafter following an Iraqi threat to seize fields under Kurdish management if they did not do so, according to the sources.

It was not immediately clear whether or when the Iraqi government would seek to retake control of all Kirkuk oilfields, a vital source of revenue for the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The short suspension in production helped push up world oil prices as the shutdown represented more than half of total Kurdish output.

A dozen Iraqi armored vehicles arrived at the provincial government headquarters in Kirkuk and took up positions nearby, alongside local police. They pulled down the Kurdish flag and left the Iraqi flag flying.

Thousands of Kurds flee

Thousands of Kurdish civilians fled the city of 1 million people for fear of reprisals. A Kurdish father of four who was driving out of Kirkuk towards the Kurdish regional capital Erbil to the north said: “We no longer feel safe. We hope to return to our home but right now we feel it’s dangerous for us to stay.”

Crowds of ethnic Turkmen who opposed Kurdish control of the city were celebrating. Some drove in convoys with Iraqi flags and fired shots in the air.

“This day should become a holiday, we’re so happy to have gotten rid of Barzani’s party,” said a man celebrating on a motorbike, waving the blue-and-white flag of Iraq’s Turkmen, referring to the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani.

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that Washington would not take sides in the matter but ”we don’t like the fact that they’re clashing.

“We’ve had for many years a very good relationship with the Kurds as you know and we’ve also been on the side of Iraq, even though we should have never been there in the first place.”

U.S. officials called for calm on both sides, seeking to avert an all-out conflict between Baghdad and the Kurds that would open an entirely new front in Iraq’s 14-year-old civil war and potentially draw in regional powers such as Turkey and Iran.

The Baghdad central government considers the Sept. 25 Kurdish independence referendum illegal, especially as it was held not just in the autonomous KRG region but in Kirkuk and other adjacent areas that Peshmerga forces occupied after driving out Islamic State militants in 2014.

The Peshmerga moved in after Iraqi government forces collapsed in the face of a rapid onslaught by Islamic State, preventing the jihadists from seizing the oilfields.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered that the national flag be hoisted over Kirkuk and other disputed areas.

Baghdad described its army’s advance as largely unopposed, and urged the Peshmerga to cooperate in keeping the peace.

The Peshmerga said Baghdad would be made to pay “a heavy price” for triggering “war on the Kurdistan people”.

The overnight advance was the most decisive step Baghdad has taken yet to block the independence bid of the Kurds, who have governed an autonomous tract of northern Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and voted three weeks ago to secede.

Kirkuk, one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse cities in Iraq, is located just outside the autonomous Kurdish zone. Kurds consider it the heart of their homeland; they say it was cleansed of Kurds and settled with Arabs under Saddam to secure control of the oil that was the source of Iraq’s wealth.

Washington, which arms and trains both Iraqi federal forces and the Peshmerga to fight Islamic State militants, urged “all parties to immediately cease military action and restore calm”, according to a U.S. Embassy statement.

“ISIS (Islamic State) remains the true enemy of Iraq, and we urge all parties to remain focused on finishing the liberation of their country from this menace.”

U.S. Defense Department spokesman Colonel Robert Manning declined to speculate on whether Washington might cut off military aid and training to Iraqi forces in the event of a major conflict. “I‘m not going to speculate on that but I will tell you that we’re looking at all options for planning considerations ... We encourage dialogue,” he said.

State TV said Iraqi forces had also entered Tuz Khurmato, a flashpoint town where there had been clashes between Kurds and mainly Shi‘ite Muslims of Turkmen ethnicity.

The “government of Abadi bears the main responsibility for triggering war on the Kurdistan people, and will be made to pay a heavy price”, the Peshmerga command said in a statement, cited by Kurdish leader Barzani’s assistant Hemin Hawrami.

Secession opposed by neighbors

The Kurdish secession bid was strongly opposed by neighbors Iran and Turkey. Washington, allied with the Kurds for decades, pleaded vainly for them to halt a vote that could break up Iraq.

There were signs of internal strife among the Kurds, who have been divided for decades into two main factions, the KDP of regional government leader Barzani and the PUK of his longtime rival Jalal Talabani, who served as Iraq’s ceremonial president in Baghdad from 2003-2014 and died two weeks ago.

Both Kurdish parties control their own Peshmerga units. While Barzani’s KDP strongly supported the independence referendum, some PUK figures were more circumspect.

Monday’s Peshmerga statement accused a group within the PUK of “treason” for allegedly assisting Baghdad’s advance. “We regret that some PUK officials helped in this plot,” it said.

Talabani’s widow, Hero, said the Iraqi operation was carried out with international consent and the PUK was not able to prevent it through talks. “This heroic city was facing an international plan,” she said in a statement.

”The past few days have been spent in meetings with American representatives, representatives of the Iraqi government and ... of various other countries in order to prevent today’s attack. “It is with great regret that we were not successful on this occasion.”

Although Iraqi officials portrayed the Kurds as retreating without a fight, Kurdish officials said Peshmerga had clashed with the “Popular Mobilisation” - Shi‘ite Muslim forces trained and armed by Iran that operate alongside regular Iraqi troops.

Turkey, which had developed a good working relationship with the Iraqi Kurds and let the landlocked region export oil through its pipes, has swung behind Baghdad, furious at a secession move that might ignite similar demands from its own Kurds.

Turkey said on Monday it would close its air space to KRG territory and work to hand control of the main border crossing into the region to the Iraqi central government.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Dmitry Zhdannikov in London, Phil Stewart and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; writing by Peter Graff; editing by Mark Heinrich.
Iraq Army in 'Full Control' of Central Kirkuk: Government
Iraqi army's Joint Operations Command says it has established 'total control' over Kirkuk city center

Anadolu News Agency

Iraqi government forces have assumed "full control" over Kirkuk's city center, according to a statement issued late Monday by the army's Joint Operations Command.

The statement listed facilities in Kirkuk that the army had appropriated from Kurdish Peshmerga forces (loyal to northern Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government), who reportedly withdrew from the city and its outskirts before the Iraqi army advance.

These facilities include Kirkuk's main airport, the Northern Petroleum Company, the K1 military base, the Mulla Abdullah oil refinery and the Tikrit Bridge, among others.

Earlier Monday, Iraqi forces reportedly assumed control over central Kirkuk's main government headquarters, according to a local police source.

"A large contingent of Iraqi Federal Police has entered the government headquarters [in Kirkuk] over which they have raised the Iraqi flag," Kirkuk Police Captain Hamed al-Obaidi told Anadolu Agency.

The Iraqi authorities have also reportedly imposed a citywide curfew in Kirkuk, set to expire at 7.00 a.m. (0400GMT) Tuesday morning.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, meanwhile, has also ordered Iraqi security forces to secure the majority-Turkmen district of Tuz Khurmatu in Iraq's Saladin province north of Baghdad, according to a statement released by al-Abadi’s office.

Late Sunday, Iraqi forces -- including army troops, Federal Police units and Hashd al-Shaabi fighters -- began their advance towards ethnically-diverse Kirkuk with a view to seizing strategic sites and facilities.

Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, oil-rich Kirkuk has remained the subject of dispute between the central government in Baghdad and the Erbil-based Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

Answerable to KRG President Masoud Barzani, the Peshmerga took control of Kirkuk after the Iraqi army fled before the Daesh terrorist group’s onslaught in 2014.

Tension has mounted steadily between Baghdad and the KRG since Sept. 25, when Iraqis in KRG-controlled areas -- and in several disputed areas, including Kirkuk -- voted on whether or not to declare regional independence.

The illegitimate referendum had faced strong opposition from most regional and international actors (including the U.S., Turkey and Iran), who warned that the poll would distract from Iraq’s fight against terrorism and further destabilize the region.
Iraqi Forces Seize Oil Fields in Kirkuk

This image made from a video shows Iraqi soldiers in the Qatash area towards Kirkuk gas plant, south of Kirkuk, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. Iraqi state media say federal troops have entered disputed territories occupied by the nation’s Kurds. The move comes three years after Kurdish militias seized the areas outside their autonomous region to defend against an advance by the Islamic State extremist group. (Associated Press)

By Associated Press October 16 at 8:57 PM

KIRKUK, Iraq — The Latest on Iraq, where federal forces have moved into the disputed northern city of Kirkuk as Kurdish forces have pulled out (all times local):

8:10 p.m.

The Pentagon is declining to blame the Iraqi government for the violence in Kirkuk, and instead is urging the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish authorities to negotiate their differences.

A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Rob Manning, says the confrontation underway in the Iraqi city is a “distractor” to the U.S. goal of destroying the Islamic State group, and that Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga troops should not be “going at each other.”

Iraqi government forces have moved into the disputed city of Kirkuk and seized oil fields and other infrastructure on Monday, following last month’s Kurdish independence vote.

Asked about U.S. Sen. John McCain’s statement that the Iraqi government faces severe consequences for what he called its misuse of U.S. military equipment to attack Kurdish forces, Manning said he could not comment beyond saying Washington wants both sides to engage in dialogue. He said U.S. commanders in Iraq are trying to help mediate.


6:30 p.m.

Turkey says it supports the operation conducted by the Iraq government forces which moved in to the disputed city of Kirkuk and seized oil fields and other infrastructure following last month’s Kurdish independence vote.

Speaking to reporters at the end of a Cabinet meeting Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag however, described the operation as “too late” in coming.

“There is an attack against Iraq’s territorial integrity, against its sovereignty rights, its political unity and constitution,” Bozdag said. “We think this step designed to expel this attack is a very important one.”

Earlier, Bozdag announced Turkey was closing its airspace to flights to and from the Iraqi Kurdish region.


6 p.m.

Turkey has announced that it is closing its airspace to flights to and from Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told reporters following a weekly Cabinet meeting Monday that the government has also decided to start procedures to hand over the control of a border gate into the Kurdish region to the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.

The announcement came amid escalating tensions between Baghdad and the Kurdish region following last month’s non-binding referendum for independence.

On Monday, Iraqi federal forces moved in to the disputed city of Kirkuk and seized oil fields and other infrastructure amid soaring tensions, forcing Kurdish forces to withdraw.

Turkey, which has a large Kurdish population and is fighting a Kurdish insurgency on its territory, strongly opposes Kurdish moves toward independence.

Turkey last month suspended flights to Iraqi Kurdish cities.


3 p.m.

The U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group says it believes the exchange of fire between Iraqi and Kurdish forces in and around Kirkuk was a “misunderstanding.”

A coalition statement says it is monitoring federal and Kurdish military vehicles and believes they are “coordinated movements, not attacks.”

It said it was aware of reports of a “limited exchange of fire during predawn hours of darkness,” but “we believe the engagement this morning was a misunderstanding and not deliberate as two elements attempted to link up under limited visibility conditions.”

The U.S. has armed, trained and provided vital air support to both federal and Kurdish forces as part of the war against IS. It has urged both sides to remain focused on the extremists.

Baghdad and the Kurdish region have long been at odds over the fate of Kirkuk, a dispute that has grown more bitter since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a non-binding referendum.

Maj. Gen. Robert White, commander of coalition ground forces, says: “We continue to advocate dialogue between Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. All parties must remain focused on the defeat of our common enemy,” the Islamic State group.


2:30 p.m.

A spokesman for Iraq’s state-sanctioned militias says they have “achieved all our goals” in retaking areas from Kurdish forces in and around the disputed northern city of Kirkuk.

Ahmed al-Assadi says federal forces came under fire from “some rebels” after launching the operation early Monday and returned fire.

He says federal forces have been deployed in the area of the K-1 military base, the Kirkuk airport and a number of oil fields and installations. But he says the state-backed militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, have not entered the city center.

Associated Press reporters earlier saw militiamen at posts in western Kirkuk.

Kurdish forces seized control of Kirkuk in the summer of 2014, when Islamic State militants swept across northern Iraq and the country’s armed forces crumbled. The Kurds claim Kirkuk, even though it is outside their autonomous region.

The central government has long demanded the Kurds withdraw, and appears to have decided to act in the wake of last month’s Kurdish vote for independence, which was rejected as unconstitutional by Baghdad.


2:15 p.m.

Iraq’s military says it has seized two major oil fields outside the disputed city of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.

The military said in a statement Monday that federal forces are now in control of the North Oil Company and Baba Gurgur fields.

Iraqi forces advanced on Kirkuk overnight Monday, clashing with Kurdish forces on the outskirts. The city is outside the Kurdish autonomous region but claimed by the Kurds and the central government.

The Kurds and the central government have long been divided over the sharing of revenues from the oil fields outside Kirkuk.


1:15 p.m.

State-sanctioned Iraqi militias have taken up positions inside the disputed northern city of Kirkuk after federal forces clashed with Kurdish forces outside the city.

The mostly Shiite Arab militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, are viewed with deep suspicion by the city’s Kurdish community. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had previously vowed they would remain outside the city.

An Associated Press reporter on Monday saw the militiamen at posts in Turkmen areas on the western side of the city that had been abandoned by Kurdish forces.

Kurdish forcers were falling back from their positions around Kirkuk as federal forces advanced on the city. Kurdish commanders say they have sustained casualties in the clashes, without providing specific figures.

Sporadic gunfire can be heard inside Kirkuk. Police at a checkpoint to the north said Kurdish families are leaving to Irbil, in the nearby autonomous Kurdish region, fearing attacks by the PMF.


1:10 p.m.

The European Union is launching a civilian mission in Iraq to help the conflict-ravaged country revamp its security sector to better tackle terrorism, corruption and political instability.

EU foreign ministers said in a statement on Monday that the mission will have a budget of 14 million euros ($16.5 million) and is set to deploy to Baghdad at the end of the year for 12 months.

The team, expected to number up to 35 personnel, will advise and assist the Iraqi authorities in carrying out their national security strategy.

The EU announcement came as Iraqi forces entered territory held by Kurds to end a political dispute over areas seized by Kurdish militias three years ago to defend the oil city of Kirkuk against the Islamic State group.


1 p.m.

Iraqi Kurdish forces have abandoned their positions outside Kirkuk’s airport and civilians are fleeing in large numbers as federal forces close in on the disputed city following an overnight attack from the south.

An Associated Press reporter saw the positions abandoned and the civilians fleeing on Monday. Federal forces had earlier seized an industrial area and a power plant to the south of the city.

The fighting comes amid soaring tensions after the Kurds voted for independence last month in a non-binding referendum rejected as unconstitutional by Baghdad.

Both the Kurdish forces and the federal forces have been armed and trained by the United States, and both are allies against the Islamic State group.


12:15 p.m.

Iraq’s military command is ordering Kirkuk’s local police and security forces to report to their posts in the city as usual after federal forces seized nearby areas in clashes with Kurdish fighters.

The statement from the armed forces command Monday says the federal government wants local police to stay in the city to maintain order. The military says it wants to protect the city with “the people of Kirkuk.”

Federal forces have not yet entered the city. Residents have reported sporadic rocket and mortar fire.

Kurdish forces known as peshmerga took control of Kirkuk in the summer of 2014, when the Islamic State group swept across northern Iraq and the country’s armed forces crumbled.

Iraq has since demanded that the city, which is outside the Kurds’ autonomous region, be handed back to federal control. Tensions have escalated since the Kurds voted for independence in a non-binding referendum last month.


11:15 a.m.

Iraq’s Kurds have vowed to fight back against any attempt by federal forces to seize the airport in the disputed city of Kirkuk, after clashes erupted overnight.

Maj. Gen. Ayoub Yusuf Said told The Associated Press: “We are not withdrawing from here, we are fortifying our positions at the airport and we intend to fight here.”

He says his forces have been battling since early Monday and have suffered casualties, without providing a specific figure.

The Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, were digging in at the edge of the international airport after withdrawing from their positions outside the city following an attack by Iraqi troops.

Hundreds of armed Kurdish residents were taking up positions inside the city anticipating an attack.

Tensions between Iraq’s Kurds and the central government have soared since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a non-binding referendum rejected by Baghdad and much of the international community.


10 a.m.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry says federal forces have captured a power plant and a police station south of Kirkuk after what Kurdish officials described as a major assault aimed at driving Kurdish forces from the disputed city.

Monday’s brief statement from the Interior Ministry, on “Operation Impose Security on Kirkuk,” provided no details on the fighting or casualties, saying only that federal forces had taken control of industrial areas near the city.

Kurdish officials say federal forces launched a major assault south of the city that caused “lots of casualties,” without providing exact figures. It was not immediately possible to independently confirm their claims.

Tensions around Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city claimed by the Kurdish autonomous region and the central government, have soared since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a referendum condemned as unconstitutional by Baghdad.

Both the federal forces and the Kurdish forces are close U.S. allies that have been armed and trained as part of the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group.


9:45 a.m.

The U.S.-led coalition is urging Iraqi and Kurdish forces to “avoid escalatory actions” after federal forces launched an assault south of the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, sparking clashes with the Kurds.

U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman, tweeted that the coalition is “closely monitoring sit. near Kirkuk; urge all sides to avoid escalatory actions. Finish the fight vs. #ISIS, biggest threat to all.”

The U.S.-led coalition has armed and trained federal and Kurdish forces in the battle against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, which is still ongoing despite the retaking of the northern city of Mosul earlier this year.

Iraqi forces launched a major operation south of Kirkuk late Sunday and have captured industrial areas near the city. Kurdish officials say their forces have sustained casualties.

Tensions have been soaring since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a non-binding referendum rejected by the central government as well as the United States.

9:15 a.m.

An Iraqi Kurdish commander says federal forces have seized an oil and gas company and other industrial areas south of Kirkuk in fighting with Kurdish forces that caused “lots of casualties.”

Brig. Gen. Bahzad Ahmed, a spokesman for Kurdish forces, said Monday the Iraqi troops have “burnt lots of houses and killed many people” in Toz Khormato and Daquq, south of the disputed city. He said Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, have “destroyed one or two of their tanks.”

His claims could not be independently verified.

Kurdish officials say federal forces launched an assault south of Kirkuk late Sunday, aiming to capture a military base and surrounding oil wells.

The multi-ethnic city has been at the heart of a long-running dispute between the Kurds and the federal government that escalated following last month’s non-binding Kurdish vote for independence.

The U.S. has armed and trained Iraqi and Kurdish forces, both of which are at war with the Islamic State group.


8:30 a.m.

Iraqi Kurdish officials say federal forces and state-backed militias have launched a “major, multi-pronged” attack aimed at retaking the disputed northern city of Kirkuk.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council says in a statement Monday that Kurdish forces known as peshmerga have destroyed at least five U.S.-supplied Humvees being used by the state-sanctioned militias following the “unprovoked attack” south of the city.

Tensions have soared since the Kurds held a non-binding referendum last month in which they voted for independence from Iraq. The central government, along with neighboring Turkey and Iran, rejected the vote.

The United States has supplied and trained Iraqi federal forces and the peshmerga, both of which are fighting the Islamic State group. The U.S. also opposed the referendum.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Keep Off Kenyan Affairs, Uhuru Tells Foreign Powers
Kenya Daily Nation
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto arrive at Karatina Stadium in Nyeri on October 15, 2017. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

In Summary
The Head of State said the country will not allow dialogue between him and Mr Odinga spearheaded by the foreign countries.

He also blamed Mr Odinga for demonstrations and destruction of property in various parts of the country, saying any person involved in protests must be dealt with accordingly.

Mr Ruto accused Mr Odinga of begging the international community to force mediation talks to form a coalition government.


President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto have fired a warning shot to foreign countries, accusing them of trying to interfere with Kenya’s affairs.

Speaking  during political rallies in Nyahururu and Karatina, the two said the country was not in a crisis to deserve interference by the foreign countries.

“I want to tell the international community that there is no problem in Kenya. The only problem we have is one man called Raila Odinga (Nasa leader),” said President Kenyatta.

The Head of State said the country will not allow dialogue between him and Mr Odinga spearheaded by the foreign countries.

While maintaining that Kenya was a sovereign state, he said: “We will not allow wazungu (whites) to come and tell us what to do. If they come to Kenya, let them come as tourists. Let them go to Maasai Mara, come to Laikipia and other places, but they should not come here and tell us what to do,” said President Kenyatta.


He also blamed Mr Odinga for demonstrations and destruction of property in various parts of the country, saying any person involved in protests must be dealt with accordingly. The President appealed to voters in the county to turn up in large numbers for the October 26 repeat election and cast their votes.

Mr Ruto accused Mr Odinga of begging the international community to force mediation talks to form a coalition government.

“He is crying before the foreign countries so that they can sympathise with him and set up a team that will oversee mediation. But even if he goes to Europe, Washington, pass through Mexico or go to Casablanca, there will be no nusu mkate,” said Mr Ruto.

 The DP told Mr Odinga to call off demonstrations, stop intimidations and threats against IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati and CEO Ezra Chiloba, and instead prepare for the elections.


 “If as Jubilee we wanted to swear in Mr Kenyatta as President, we could have done so, but we never wanted to plunge the country into chaos because we are peace lovers. So we decided to go back to the ballot. Let him also call off demos, stop side shows and prepare for the election,” added the DP.

Speaking earlier in Karatina, President Kenyatta ruled out sharing power with the opposition.

The Head of State and his deputy said Mr Odinga was a protégé of western countries.

The President condemned a trip to the UK by Mr Odinga, saying the era of being ruled by Western countries is over.

He also defended police from claims of using excessive force on demonstrators who were holding anti-IEBC protests.


“The Constitution allows for peaceful demonstrations but you cannot call them peaceful demos when you send your men to stone police stations. What do you expect to find when you storm a police station?” asked the President.

Mr Ruto told Mr Odinga to respect the Constitution and the people of Kenya, saying he was the one who called for a repeat of the presidential election, and he should not dictate to  Kenyans not to participate in the polls.

Responding to Mr Odinga’s statement that he brokered the 2008 coalition government, the DP said he would not allow it again because the Nasa leader “misbehaved and gave former President Mwai Kibaki a hard time”.

“I helped him get the coalition deal but he misbehaved, always complaining about issues like half a carpet. This time there will be no power-sharing deal,” Mr Ruto said. During the rally, one person was injured after a building collapsed.

 Reported by Stephen Munyiri, Steve Njuguna and Nicholas Komu 
Raila: Why I Took London Trip After Election Pullout
Kenya Daily Nation
Nasa leader Raila Odinga addresses a rally at Mama Ngina Drive in Mombasa, yesterday. He denied claims that he is pushing for a power-sharing deal. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

In Summary
Mr Odinga rejected claims that he was fighting for a power-sharing deal with Jubilee and vowed to continue with his “No reforms; No elections” campaign.
Mr Odinga, who arrived in the country from the UK on Sunday morning, denied allegations that his mission in London was to beg the international community to help him ascend to power.
Mr Mudavadi said Kenyans had no confidence in IEBC as currently constituted, while Mr Wetang’ula said justice is the foundation of peace and success.
The President said Mr Odinga was portraying the country’s democracy as rotten to attract the attention of the international community.



Nasa leader Raila Odinga on Sunday dismissed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s claims that the opposition was seeking the intervention of foreign countries in the election stalemate, reiterating that he was not interested in sharing power.

Mr Odinga rejected claims that he was fighting for a power-sharing deal with Jubilee and vowed to continue with his “No reforms; No elections” campaign which will be intensified from Monday, with daily street demonstrations.

The former Prime Minister took a swipe at Deputy President William Ruto, saying he pushed for a coalition government in the aftermath of the December 2007 post election violence.

Mr Odinga, who arrived in the country from the UK on Sunday morning, denied allegations that his mission in London was to beg the international community to help him ascend to power. He had toured London for a break after hectic campaigns and to tell the world the truth about Kenya.

While the Jubilee administration was using ambassadors to spread “propaganda,”’ about the country, Mr Odinga said he had to go and set the record straight in front of an international audience.


“I arrived today (Sunday) morning from UK. Others are saying I had gone to kneel down to the international community so that they can come to mediate on the political crisis in the country. That is not true,” he said at the Neno Evangelical Church in Tudor, Mombasa, before addressing a rally at Mama Ngina Grounds.

He charged that President Kenyatta was directing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) whose chairman Wafula Chebukati was sympathetic to Jubilee to protect his job.  He likened the President to Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Mr Chebukati to the merchant.

Mr Odinga was with co-principals Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetang’ula, Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and 26 MPs. He said Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka was in Germany.

He urged his supporters to continue with protests to push for electoral reform changes from Monday to Friday.

“I am not interested in nusu mkate,  we need full boflo (bread), (I’m not interested in sharing power. I want to be fully in charge),” said Mr Odinga.


With the crowd chanting: “Uhuru Must Go,” Mr Odinga said his votes were altered in Nairobi to show that President Kenyatta had received more votes in Mombasa than he did in 2013.

“Shame on him,” Mr Odinga said in reference to the alleged rigging.

The Nasa leader said the Supreme Court unearthed irregularities in the August election and that all Nasa was interested in was seeing the illegalities sorted out.

He said before President Kenyatta  makes good his threat to punish the Supreme Court judges for nullifying his victory, Kenyans would teach him a lesson.

If IEBC had opened its servers as ordered by the court, he would have been declared the election winner, he said, adding: “That is why we came out with irreducible minimum conditions for IEBC, ” he said.

Dismissing the defection of former Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar to Jubilee as inconsequential, Mr Odinga thanked Mombasa residents for voting overwhelmingly for Nasa in the August vote.


Mr Mudavadi said Kenyans had no confidence in IEBC as currently constituted, while Mr Wetang’ula said justice is the foundation of peace and success. “Even a one-year-old baby will cry if denied justice,” he said.

Mr Wetang’ula also denied Nasa was begging the international community to help the opposition ascend to power.

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho dismissed the defections of some Nasa leaders to Jubilee  as inconsequential, saying a majority of ordinary Kenyans were firmly behind the opposition.

Mr Joho and his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi led the crowd in chanting: “No reforms. No elections”.

Coast Parliamentary Group chairman Suleiman Dori asked coast residents not to pay taxes to the national government just as President Kenyatta had asked Kongowea traders not to pay to the county.
He said Coast leaders would push for secession of the region if Mr Odinga does not become president.


Suna East MP Junet Mohamed said President Kenyatta should be kicked out of State House if he doesn’t leave by November and that Nasa will hold major demonstrations on October 26.

Earlier at the church, Bishop Robert Wafula was cheered when he prayed for Mr Odinga to succeed in his quest for presidency.

Mr Odinga also “accepted Jesus Christ as his personal saviour,” by repeating a prayer after the bishop.

While campaigning in Kenol town in Murang’a town on Saturday, President Kenyatta said the country does not need mediators since it is not in a crisis.


The President said Mr Odinga was portraying the country’s democracy as rotten to attract the attention of the international community but he insisted that the county will not be ruled by foreigners.

“We told you before that he never wanted an election and he still does not want one that’s why he is busy kneeling before the white man claiming that the country is at war,” said the President. Mr Odinga was in London to speak about democracy and justice at Chatham House.

Among prominent opposition leaders who ditched Nasa after losing the August 8 elections are Mr Omar, former Taita-Taveta Governor John Mruttu and former Likoni MP Suleiman Shakombo.