Fall of Kirkuk to Iranian-Backed Forces Is Wake-Up Call to Israel, Kurdish General Says
A Kurdish general who previously led Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq against ISIS terrorists bemoaned on Friday the fall of Kirkuk to an Iranian-backed coalition earlier this week, warning that Israel would eventually become a target of the Tehran regime if the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions were not effectively checked.
Speaking with journalist Assaf Gabor of the Israeli news outlet Makor Rishon, Gen. Tarek Ahmad-Jaf of the Peshmerga admitted, “We lost Kirkuk, we lost the battle.”
“It’s very unfortunate, even humiliating,” Ahmad-Jaf said.
Ahmed-Jaf reflected that, only a year ago, he had been one of the commanders leading Peshmerga forces in and around Kirkuk, during the successful counter-offensive against ISIS in which Kurdish forces played a central military role.
“I lost 59 commanders and fighters in the battles to liberate the city, and then to protect the residents’ safety,” the general said. “Now I watch television and see the thousands of locals fleeing the Iraqi and Iranian control of the area.”
“It is hard to see the Iraqi flag flying now in place of the Kurdish one,” Ahmed-Jaf continued. “Kirkuk is a Kurdish city that is as important to us as Jerusalem is to the Jews. ”
Echoing the statements of officials in Kurdish President Masoud Barzani’s administration this week, Ahmed-Jaf blamed the Kurdish flight from Kirkuk on an agreement reached between representatives of a faction of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) blamed the rival PUK faction for reaching an agreement with the Badr Brigade, a powerful Iraqi Shia militia armed and trained by the Iranians, that resulted in the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from Kirkuk and the oil and natural gas-rich surrounding area. Ahmed-Jaf said that agreement with Soleimani had been brokered by the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi shortly after the September 25 Kurdish referendum, in which 93 percent of voters chose independence.
Turning to the historic international allies of the Kurds, Ahmed-Jaf charged that the US and Israel “have forgotten us.”
“Despite Israel’s support for the referendum on independence, in the real battle, Israel was not here for us,” Ahmed-Jaf said. “Beyond the brotherhood of our nations, Israel must understand how dangerous the Iranian hold on Kirkuk, Mosul and Sinjar, near the Syrian border, is.”
Referring to Iran’s desire for a “Shia corridor” from its own borders to the Mediterranean coast, Ahmed-Jaf continued: “I don’t believe that Israel does not think about this clear strategy that Iran is promoting. If Iran is strong in Iraq and Syria, it is strong in Lebanon and the Golan Heights. The Israeli government knows this, and I do not understand why they are silent and are not leading an international struggle against Iran’s takeover.”
On Friday, an anonymous Israeli government official told the Reuters news agency that the Jewish state was, in fact, quietly lobbying other nations to do more to assist the Kurds against the Iranian-backed government in Baghdad. The official said that Israel understood that the Kurdish territory now effectively controlled by Iran was a “strategic place,” adding that Israel wanted a situation on the ground in which Kurdish fighters are provided with the means to protect themselves.
“It would be best if someone gave them weaponry, and whatever else, which we cannot give, obviously,” the official added. Israel has always officially denied providing military aid and expertise to the Peshmerga, despite numerous reports going back decades of military cooperation between the two sides.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to have stressed the importance of preventing any further Kurdish territorial losses in phone conversations this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat is also reported to have discussed the plight of the Kurds with Trump administration officials.