Iraqi security forces and the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi, an umbrella group of Shiite militia, on Sunday night launched an attack on Kirkuk from two front lines, Kurdish news outlet Rudaw reported Monday.
The Iraqi army and Shiite militia fired on Peshmerga troops, using advanced weapons and vehicles supplied to them by coalition partners in the fight against ISIS, including United States Abrams tanks and Humvees. The two factions advanced on Kurdish controlled areas just before midnight, south of Kirkuk, with the intent to gain control of the K1 military base and oil fields.
On a regional scale, the attack on Kirkuk, ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with the blessing of the regime in Tehran, is a punitive measure taken against the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), after the autonomous region voted by a margin of 92.7 percent in favor of independence from Iraq on September 25.
However, the latest escalation should not be seen solely as a conflict between the Kurdish regional government in Erbil and the central government in Baghdad. The attack on Kirkuk was also a direct aggression by Iranian-backed militia on a key U.S. ally, just days after the Trump administration refused to certify the nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic and designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization in its entirety.
The Peshmerga General Command said that the Hashd al-Shaabi militia, trained and financed by the IRGC-Quds Force, organized the attacks on Kurdish troops.
A high-ranking KRG official told The Tower that “this is an Iranian plot to complete its regional hegemony. Kurdistan remains a bulwark against Iran and religious extremism.” He added that “America must choose between Iran and Kurdistan.”
The KRG official confirmed that the Iranian-backed militia groups Badr Brigade, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abbas Division, Ali Akbar, Khorasan and Imam Ali were all taking part in the Kirkuk offensive.
The official added that Iran’s hand in the operation was undeniable. Senior Iranian commanders, including the Quds Force’s notorious leader Qassem Soleimani, who arrived for talks in Iraq on Sunday, as well as Hadi Al-Ameri and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, are on the ground in southern Kirkuk supervising the assault on Kurdish forces.
The Peshmerga General Command said in a statement that it was treating the attack on Kirkuk by the Iranian Quds-backed Iraqi forces and the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi as “a flagrant declaration of war against the nation of Kurdistan.”
The U.S. government, meanwhile, released a statement, saying it was not taking sides in the conflict. “Coalition forces and advisors are not supporting Government of Iraq or Kurdistan Regional Government activities near Kirkuk, but are aware of reports of a limited exchange of fire during predawn hours of darkness Oct. 16,” it stated.
The U.S. has called on all parties to return to the negotiation table and end the violence.
[Photo: Wochit News / YouTube]