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October 17, 2017 5:02 pm

US ‘Helping Iran Conquer Kirkuk,’ Kurdish Military Official Tells Israeli News Outlet

avatar by Ben Cohen

Iranian-backed Iraqi forces and Shia militias entering the Kurdish-majority city of Kirkuk. Photo: Screenshot.

A representative of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces told an Israeli media outlet on Tuesday that “all our friends have abandoned us” and blamed the US for “ultimately helping Iran conquer” the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

The Hebrew news site nrg quoted an unnamed Kurdish military official expressing deep regret that neither the US nor Israel have come to the aid of the Kurds as they face a continued onslaught led by the Iranian-backed Iraqi government troops and Shia militias fighters. On Monday, the combined force rapidly took control of Kirkuk, prompting thousands of civilians to flee the Kurdish-majority city.

“Israel backed us quietly, but at the moment of truth, when we needed support, it was not there for us,” the Kurdish official was quoted as saying. Israel was virtually isolated internationally when it declared its support for the September 25 independence referendum in northern Iraq, in which nearly 93 percent of voters opted for the creation of a sovereign Kurdish state.

Even harsher words were reserved for the US, however, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement as Kirkuk fell that America was not “taking sides” in the conflict.

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“The US, the great supporter of Kurdistan, is ultimately helping Iran conquer Kirkuk,” the official was quoted as saying. “We see the American weapons and the fighters trained by the Americans who are removing the Kurdish flag and raising the Iraqi one in its place.”

The official also observed that the capture of Kirkuk was a key element of Iran’s regional plans. “The Iraqi forces are actually Iranian forces,” he said. “They are realizing the control of the ‘Shia Crescent’ from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Golan Heights. In the end, they will get to Israel.”

Trump’s neutrality has drawn sharp criticism from leading US politicians, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. All three legislators separately condemned the Iraqi government for using weapons and training provided by the US to attack Kirkuk.

“We cannot forget the Iranian regime provides cash, weapons, training, and military orders to Shia militias that are right now near Kirkuk,” Rubio added, highlighting Iran’s central role in the assault. Meanwhile, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), a longstanding ally of the Kurds in the House of Representatives, challenged Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to “prove Baghdad is not the puppet of Tehran” by halting the Kirkuk operation, warning that he would otherwise advocate for the suspension of US funding to Iraq “as it cannot in good conscience send money to an Iranian patsy working to subvert American interests.”

In a national address on Tuesday, Kurdish President Masoud Barzani declared that “those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for Kurdistan have not been lost in vain, and the same shall be true for those who voted for an independent Kurdistan.”

“We never wanted to fight, but fighting has always been imposed on us,” Barzani said. “We assure the people of the Kurdistan Region that we will do whatever is necessary to defend our achievements and provide security for our people.”

Barzani again claimed that the Kurdish withdrawal from Kirkuk and other strategic areas in northern Iraq was “the result of a unilateral decision by some members of a political party” to reach agreement with the Iranian-backed force — a reference to a rival group allegedly inside the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which has long competed for Kurdish political loyalties with Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Leading strategic analysts also weighed into the debate over US policy toward the Kurds. John Hannah, who served as a national security adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney and is currently a senior counselor at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told the Kurdistan 24 broadcaster, “The US needs to understand that this is no longer a matter of Kurds and Arabs. This is now the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) against America; (IRGC Quds Force commander Gen.) Qassem Soleimani against Donald Trump.”

Hannah added, “It would be a terrible blow to US interests to allow an Iranian terrorist group and its Iraqi proxies to respond by smashing a critical American ally with impunity.”

Richard Haas — head of the Council on Foreign Relations — tweeted that a “muscular” policy against Tehran would “include helping Kurds resisting Iran-backed governments in Iraq, Syria.”

And Michael Pregent of the Hudson Institute noted, “Iran is testing President Trump’s resolve by attacking US ally in Kirkuk less than 60 hours” after the US imposed new sanctions on the IRGC.

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