IN WAKE OF REFERENDUM, BAGHDAD & TEHRAN MOVE TO PREVENT KURDISH INDEPENDENCE Posted on November 7, 2017 Printer Friendly Baghdad and Tehran's Goal: The Destruction of Kurdistan: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 28, 2017— The advance of the Iran-supported Iraqi government and paramilitary forces against their Kurdish opponents moved forward this week. Kurdish Battle Positions Kurds as US Ally Against Iran: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Oct. 27, 2017— Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, in his first comment on the military rout of his Peshmerga forces, vowed that the overwhelming vote for Kurdish independence in a controversial referendum last month “won’t be in vain.” Israel, Don't let the Kurds Down!: Ariel Natan Pasko, Arutz Sheva, Oct. 30, 2017— It’s very ironic that all the noise about the Kurdish independence referendum… Western Powers Must Protect Kurds, Urges Iraqi Jew Escorted to Freedom by Masoud Barzani: Ben Cohen, Algemeiner, Nov. 6, 2017 — For the last forty-seven years, Jamil “Jimmy” Ezra has marked a special, deeply private anniversary on September 1 with a ray of hope in his heart. On Topic Links Why Kurdistan Matters (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Nov. 1, 2017 How the Kurdish Quest for Independence in Iraq Backfired: Sergio Peçanha, New York Times, Nov. 5, 2017 'No Easy Path Out of This Mess:' Canada's Military Confirms it is Reviewing Plan to Arm Kurds: David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen, Oct. 26, 2017 Kurdistan on the Road to Desolation: LTC Sargis Sangari and Steven Weingartner, Western Free Press, Nov. 1, 2017 BAGHDAD AND TEHRAN'S GOAL: THE DESTRUCTION OF KURDISTAN Jonathan Spyer Jerusalem Post, Oct. 28, 2017 The advance of the Iran-supported Iraqi government and paramilitary forces against their Kurdish opponents moved forward this week. The Kurdish Regional Government, in a statement issued on the morning of October 25, offered to “freeze” the results of the referendum on independence conducted on September 25, in light of what it called the “grave and dangerous circumstances” currently prevailing. The KRG proposed an “immediate cease-fire” and a halt to all military operations in the Kurdistan Region, along with the commencement of “an open dialogue between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi Federal Government on the basis of the Constitution.” The proposal was swiftly rejected. The spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Forces, the Iran-backed Shi’a militias, described it as “worthless.” The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants the total annulment of the referendum’s results. The KRG’s proposal had a certain feel of desperation about it. And not by chance. The Kurdish predicament in the north of Iraq today is indeed grave. The full dimensions of the Iraqi government and its backers’ intentions regarding the future of Iraqi Kurdistan have not been precisely announced. Rather, the preferred dimension in which Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi representatives like to operate is one of carefully fostered confusion and ambiguity. But as the fighting continues, it is beginning to become apparent that the ambitions of Baghdad and its backers go beyond merely a return to the pre-2014 status quo. Rather, the intention appears to be to prevent any further notion of secession – by crippling the KRG militarily and economically and taking control of the nodes connecting it to the outside world. This policy has proceeded along a number of axes in the month since the referendum. Its application began immediately following the vote, with the abrupt and unexpected announcement of the closure of the airports at Erbil and Suleimaniya to international traffic. The announcement led to a rushed exit for many foreigners who had come to observe the referendum. The airports were closed on September 29. The second phase was the move into Kirkuk Province. The Iraqi Army and Shi’a militias attacked the city on October 14. With the fall of Alton Kupri, just 50 kilometers southeast of the KRG’s capital in Erbil, on October 20, the Iraqis secured their control of the province. In so doing, they cut the oil production capacity of the KRG by 50% with a single stroke. Government forces have not at this stage attempted to move into Erbil Province. Rather, the action is shifting westward, to the Iraqi-Syrian border area and the effort by the Iraqis to cut the KRG’s land links to the outside. On October 17, Iraqi forces, led by the Interior Ministry troops of the Federal Police, seized the Rabia border crossing, which had constituted the main land link between the KRG in Iraq and the Syrian Kurdish-controlled area, known as Rojava or the Federation of Northern Syria. Iraqi forces have continued northward in recent days. They are now located just south of the Tigris River. To the northeast is the Fish-Khabur-Semalka border crossing, which links the KRG and Rojava by way of a bridge and barges. It is the last link between the two Kurdish entities. The vital Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline also runs through the village of Fish-Khabur. The Iraqis appear determined to secure control of both the pipeline and the border crossing. If they do so, they may then continue northeast toward the Khabur/Ibrahim Khalil crossing, just a few kilometers further east. This is the last open link between the KRG and Turkey. Its loss would cut the KRG off from the outside world, making travel to it possible only by way of Iraq itself and sealing the Kurds in. Further south along the long front line, the Kurdish Peshmerga are clashing with the Iraqis in the area of Telskop and Baqofa, and further south again in the area of Makhmur (the latter area includes also the KRG’s main oil field at Khurmala). Reports concerning the direction and extent of the fighting are confused and unreliable. The Peshmerga are claiming to have stalled the advancing Iraqis at various parts of the line. Information is emerging, meanwhile, of large-scale ethnic cleansing of Kurds in the area of Tuz Khurmatu near Kirkuk, after the entry of Shi’a militias on October 16. Nearly 35,000 civilians have fled the area over the last 10 days. Lynn Maalouf, director of research for the Middle East at Amnesty International, described the situation in the following terms, in a statement on the Amnesty website: “Thousands have lost their homes, shops and everything they owned. They are now scattered in nearby camps, villages and cities, wondering whether they will ever be able to return.” A number of Kurdish civilians have been killed in random attacks. So as of now, the emerging picture is one in which the Iraqi government and Iranian client forces have set their war aim as the reduction of the Kurdish Regional Government to the status of a broken, divided, dependent and surrounded entity, lacking links to the outside world and with emphatically no remaining hopes of secession or self-determination. That is, an attempt is under way to reverse the gains made by the Iraqi Kurds over the last 25 years. Should such a goal be achieved, it would represent an impressive victory – for Baghdad, certainly, but more profoundly for Tehran and for the methods of the IRGC/Quds Force and its leader, Soleimani. It would also be recorded by all regional forces as a resounding defeat for the West, and conclusive evidence that it pays little to be aligned with the US and its allies in the Middle East, since when the crunch comes, you will be on your own. The assault by the Shi’a militias and the Iraqis, it should be noted as a final irony, is being carried out largely with US-supplied weapons. The days and weeks ahead promise to be fateful ones, primarily for the Iraqi Kurds, certainly, but also for the broader power balance in the region. Baghdad and Tehran’s goal at present appears to be the defeat and effective destruction of the KRG in Iraqi Kurdistan. Contents KURDISH BATTLE POSITIONS KURDS AS US ALLY AGAINST IRAN Dr. James M. Dorsey BESA, Oct. 27, 2017 Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, in his first comment on the military rout of his Peshmerga forces, vowed that the overwhelming vote for Kurdish independence in a controversial referendum last month “won’t be in vain.” Refusing to take responsibility for the rout, Barzani blamed the Kurdish predicament on his political rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which allegedly ordered the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from Kirkuk. Technically, that may well be correct. An Iranian Revolutionary Guard general and close associate of Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani known as Eqbalpour, accompanied by two Iraqi military commanders, reportedly met on the eve of the Iraqi assault on Kirkuk with Kurdish officers in the offices of the PUK in the city. Eqbalpour urged the Kurds to surrender the city peacefully. “If you resist, we will crush you and you will lose everything,” he warned, pointing to a map that detailed how the Iraqi assault would unfold. “This is our military plan. We will hit you tonight from three points — here, here, and here,” Eqbalpour said. His Kurdish interlocutors agreed to withdraw. The Kurdish withdrawal, which prompted a Kurdish exodus from the city, was a stab in the back of the PUK’s arch rival, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) headed by Barzani. It has sparked a wave of popular anger against Iran that could complicate any effort to negotiate a compromise between the Kurds and the government in Baghdad of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has vowed to ensure Iraq’s territorial integrity. Iranian involvement in the Iraqi blitzkrieg has also sparked anger in the US Congress even though the US, which enabled Kurdish autonomy within Iraq, vowed to remain neutral in the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute. In response to the alleged use of US-built Abrams tanks and Humvees against the Kurds by Iranian-backed Shiite militias (the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMU), congressmen threatened to impose an arms embargo on Iraq, now that the Islamic State has effectively lost control of any territory in the country. To put this position in context, the US provides an estimated $1 billion in annual military assistance to Iraq and has designated some elements of the PMU as terrorist organizations. In a statement, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain called on Iraqi forces to “take immediate steps to de-escalate this volatile situation by ceasing their advances. I am especially concerned by media reports that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces are part of the assault. Make no mistake, there will be severe consequences if we continue to see American equipment misused in this way,” McCain said. McCain’s words were echoed by Rep. Trent Franks, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who introduced a resolution in Congress supporting Kurdish independence. “I urge Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi to fulfil his pledge to prevent any external or internal attack against the Kurds and prove Baghdad is not the puppet of Tehran. Otherwise, the US will have no other choice but to pull funding as it cannot in good conscience send money to an Iranian patsy working to subvert American interests,” Franks said. Despite Iraqi denials that the PMU have access to US weaponry, Kurdish emphasis on the role in Kirkuk of the Iranian-backed militia and assertions of the use of Abrams tanks and Humvees were designed to garner US support. Iraq’s embassy in Washington charged that the claims constituted “a concerted misinformation campaign by elements in the Kurdish region to cover up their sinister actions in attempting to disrupt the coordinated and professional movements of the Iraqi security forces.” The Kurdish assertions amounted to an attempt to make it difficult for the US Department of Defense to certify, in accordance with US law, that Iraq has ensured that US military assistance does not fall into the hands of extremist groups, which would include those elements of the PMU that have been designated as terrorist by the State Department. The Kurdish position, beyond the immediate politicking that aims to weaken Iraq’s position in any future negotiation and garner US sympathy if not support, also positions the Kurds as a potential US ally in any upcoming attempt to counter Iranian influence in Iraq or destabilize the Islamic Republic with the help of ethnic groups that populate its borders. President Trump signaled his tougher approach towards Iran earlier this month by refusing to certify that Iran was complying with the terms of the two-year-old nuclear agreement, opening the door to a lifting of international sanctions. A potential re-imposition of sanctions by Congress in the next sixty days could throw the accord into jeopardy. US and Saudi officials have repeatedly hinted at the possibility of attempting to achieve regime change in Iran. The Kurds, like the Baloch in Pakistan, could play a key role in any such effort. It is a strategy that would likely exploit anti-Iranian sentiment among Kurds in the wake of the Iraqi blitzkrieg; enjoy support from Israel, which has already publicly come out in favor of Kurdish independence; and build on past US and Israeli support for Kurdish nationalism. That support has not as yet helped the Kurds fulfill their aspirations, and there is no guarantee that a repeat performance would fare any better. The Kurds defended last month’s referendum with the argument that there is no good time for them to stake their claim given deep-seated Turkish, Iranian, and Iraqi rejection of their aspirations for independence. That makes their current attempt, and potential participation in covert operations against Iran, no less risky. Contents ISRAEL, DON'T LET THE KURDS DOWN! Ariel Natan Pasko Arutz Sheva, Oct. 30, 2017 It’s very ironic that all the noise about the Kurdish independence referendum; the battles between Kurdish and Iraqi forces; Turkish, Syrian, and Iranian opposition to Kurdish independence; discussion in Israel whether the State of Israel should recognize Kurdish independence; is taking place within a few weeks before and just after the 16th Yahrtzeit – anniversary of the murder – of former Israeli Tourism Minister and Moledet Party founder Rechavam Ze’evi by PFLP terrorists in 2001. It's no secret that close relations existed between Israel and the Kurds throughout most of the sixties and into the seventies, until the collapse of the Kurdish revolt in Iraq, in 1975. Ze’evi – as a young military officer – had been to Kurdistan in the 1960s and Iraqi Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani had been to Israel. Reflective of this, the 1996 Moledet Party Platform, Chapter 9: Foreign Policy, paragraph 17, stated “Israel will act against the oppression of peoples like the Kurds…” Ba’athist “forced Arabization” of minorities – Kurds, Yezidis, Assyrian Christians, Armenians, and others, in Kurdistan – northern Iraq – began in the 1960s, and lasted until the early 2000s. The Kurds, were brutally suppressed by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, starting in the late 1970s. During the 1987-88 Al-Anfal Campaign, an estimated 180,000 Kurds were killed, hundreds of thousands more, were expelled from their traditional homeland in northern Iraq. During the campaign, over 3,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed and replaced with Arab settlers, and chemical weapons were used against them, as in the infamous 1988 Halabja Massacre, that killed as many as 5,000 and injured up to 10,000 people. In fact, the town of Kirkuk, in the news a lot recently, was originally a Kurdish majority, multi-ethnic city. The Ba’athist Arabization program concentrated on moving Arabs to the vicinity of oil fields in Kurdistan, particularly the ones around Kirkuk. According to Human Rights Watch, from 1991 – after the Gulf War – until 2003, the Ba’athist Iraqi government, systematically expelled over 500,000 Kurds from the Kirkuk region. The Kurdish people are the largest, stateless, ethnicity in the world, estimated between 30-45 million worldwide, with the majority residing in historic Kurdistan. The area the Kurds consider Kurdistan includes, parts of southeastern Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), northern Syria (Western Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Southern Kurdistan), and northwestern Iran (Eastern Kurdistan). The Turks, Syrians, and Iranians, have all oppressed their Kurdish populations also. The Kurds have always looked toward Israel as a role model. The Jews are the only minority in the middle east – actually the remnant of the indigenous population of the land of Israel as the Kurds are in Kurdistan – that has liberated itself politically from the 7th century Arab imperialist invasion, occupation and oppression of the region. With this in mind, Israel should actively and openly revive the former policy of support for the Kurdish people and work in international forums and agencies to support their independence. In a recent article, Dr. Mordechai Kedar, of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, raises an important point. Kedar referring to, “Israeli pundits, army officers and politicians…view the current regional situation as a golden opportunity that Israel must take advantage of by accepting the Arab peace proposals, establishing a Palestinian state and embarking on a new era of cooperation with the ‘moderate Sunni axis’ in order to bring peace and security to Israel and the entire area.” He then asks, “Why? Because all these countries fear Iran as much as, and possibly more, than Israel does.”…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents WESTERN POWERS MUST PROTECT KURDS, URGES IRAQI JEW ESCORTED TO FREEDOM BY MASOUD BARZANI Ben Cohen Algemeiner, Nov. 6, 2017 For the last forty-seven years, Jamil “Jimmy” Ezra has marked a special, deeply private anniversary on September 1 with a ray of hope in his heart. For it was on that day in 1970 that Ezra – accompanied by his brother and sister – drove in a jeep to the Iraqi border with Iran with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and his assistant at the wheel. Ezra and his siblings were among more than 2,000 Iraqi Jews who were helped by Kurdish Peshmerga to escape from the Ba’athist regime during the 1970s. These were dark days in Iraq, where the remnant of a Jewish community that had only recently numbered 150,000 was convulsed with fear following the public hanging in Baghdad in 1969 of 14 people, nine of them Jews, on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel. Ezra remembers the time with the same deep emotion that grounds his present fears about what the future now holds for his Kurdish rescuers. “My heart breaks for the 30 million Kurds, divided between Iraq and Turkey, Syria and Iran, and abused and suffering,” Ezra told The Algemeiner on Monday. Ezra will be speaking about his experiences with Masoud Barzani – son of the legendary Mullah Mustafa Barzani and, until last week, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – at downtown Manhattan’s prestigious Center for Jewish History on Tuesday night, during a special two-part series on the Kurds sponsored by the American Sephardi Federation. It is a story that began when Ezra was a boy of 17 in Baghdad, living with his aunt and uncle, and still grieving from the sudden death of his father from a heart attack on the very same day in July 1968 that Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist comrades seized power. “One day in 1970, my brother Farid was walking in the street when he was stopped for an ID check,” Ezra recalled. “He had a permit exempting him from serving in the army, and on every page it was written in red, yahudi, yahudi, yahudi (Jew).” Farid was arrested and imprisoned on a spying charge. His voice breaking, Ezra recalled how his brother was beaten and tortured by his jailers until he suffered a nervous breakdown. Farid was then transferred to a prison for the criminally insane. “In the hot summer, the prisoners would all run outside to drink the unfiltered river water that was brought in by a truck in the morning — they would fight over the dirty water,” Ezra said. “My aunt would send me with food and clean water for my brother, and he would beg me to take him away.” At this point, Ezra said, he and his sister Gilda decided that it was time to leave Iraq. He ventured north to Iraqi Kurdistan, then enjoying a measure of autonomy under an agreement with Baghdad that was soon reneged upon by Saddam Hussein. Arriving in the Kurdish town of Haj Omran on the Iranian border, he came across an Iraqi Jewish family he knew who were taken across the border into Iran that same night. Ezra, meanwhile, was given a mattress in a room where he bedded down with ten Kurds. “I told them about how the Jews were suffering,” he said. “They promised to take me to Mustafa Barzani the following day.” The next morning, Barzani’s aides hatched a plan that involved Ezra and another Jewish family returning to Baghdad to collect their relatives, after which they would travel to a meeting point back in northern Iraq. “That was on Monday; on the Thursday, back in Baghdad, I woke up my brother Farid, who was suffering badly from his trauma in prison, and I told him, ‘Come on, you and me and Gilda are going on a short vacation,'” he said. Had they been stopped and discovered at one of the many security checkpoints along the way, certain imprisonment in a Ba’athist jail would have awaited — and, indeed, the family was pulled over by a soldier. “Luckily, the guy was an idiot,” Ezra remembered. “He couldn’t understand why my brother had an exemption permit from the army, so our driver kept explaining, ‘He’s not well, he’s not well.’ Eventually, the soldier said, ‘Ok, ok, you can go.'” Arriving at the meeting point agreed with Barzani’s advisers, Ezra remembered that a high-level Kurdish intelligence official “came out and started briefing us.” To maintain secrecy around Kurdish assistance to escaping Iraqi Jews, the official instructed Ezra and those with him to personally approach Masoud Barzani, who would be sitting in a cafe at an agreed time, and pretend they had a brother imprisoned by Kurdish forces. “We had to act,” Ezra said. “We had to beg and plead in front of Masoud.”… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents On Topic Links Why Kurdistan Matters (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Nov. 1, 2017—In the latter part of October 2017, the Iraqi army, allied with Shia militias under Iranian direction, assaulted and captured large amounts of Kurdish territory in Iraq. This represented a stunning defeat for the Kurdish military which, up until now, had been perceived as one of the strongest forces on the ground in the Middle East. How the Kurdish Quest for Independence in Iraq Backfired: Sergio Peçanha, New York Times, Nov. 5, 2017—Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence in late September, but in the month since that referendum, Iraqi government forces have seized one-fifth of Kurdish-controlled territory. 'No Easy Path Out of This Mess:' Canada's Military Confirms it is Reviewing Plan to Arm Kurds: David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen, Oct. 26, 2017—Canada’s military has confirmed it is reviewing its plan to provide the Kurds with weapons as fighting grows between Kurdish and Iraqi forces. Kurdistan on the Road to Desolation: LTC Sargis Sangari and Steven Weingartner, Western Free Press, Nov. 1, 2017—On 22 NOV 16 NEC-SE posted the article: ”President of KRG, Masoud Barzani, May Be Stepping Down Soon.” In the article we stated that NEC-SE could confirm that Barzani is seriously considering stepping down from his position, and that KRG leadership meetings in Turkey could finalize the decision.