Kurdish Fears of New Iranian-Backed Genocide ‘Must Be Taken Seriously,’ Expert Urges
Kurdish warnings that they face a potential genocide at the hands of the Iranian-backed forces that have swept through Iraqi Kurdistan over the last ten days “need to be taken seriously,” a leading expert on Kurdish affairs said on Wednesday.
“There is a great fear among the Kurds that they could face another genocide at the hands of the Iraqi government and the Shia militia forces backed by Iran,” Julie Lenarz — the executive director of the Human Security Centre, a London-based think-tank with extensive contacts in Kurdistan — said on a conference call organized by The Israel Project, a US group that closely tracks Iran’s growing military power and support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East.
Strongly criticizing US President Donald Trump’s policy of “neutrality” in the face of the Iranian onslaught that has resulted in the loss of 40 percent of the territory controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Lenarz said there was a serious risk of US and Western “complicity” in a looming civil war “in which we will see the Kurds crushed again.”
Lenarz was speaking hours after the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) — one of the main Kurdish political parties — issued a statement noting that “after defeating the Islamic State (ISIS), Kurds are now being drawn into a new wave of sectarian violence by certain radical Shia armed groups that want to impose themselves.”
“If the United Nations, Iraq, and the US do not gain control of the situation, the flames of sectarian conflict might lead to the risk of a Kurdish genocide in the Kurdistani disputed areas,” the PUK warned, as it pleaded for urgent help for thousands of civilians in the Kurdish town of Tuz Khurmatu, which lies south of Kirkuk, the main Kurdish city conquered by Iran and its allies last week.
Shalal Abdul, the mayor of Tuz Khurmatu, said in an interview with Kurdish broadcaster NRT TV that thousands of Kurdish homes and shops had been burned and looted by Iraqi troops and Shia fighters serving under the banner of the Hashd al-Shaabi militia — known in English as the Peoples’ Militia Units (PMU). The KRG’s Independent Commission for Human Rights has accused Hashd al-Shaabi of committing “war crimes” in areas under its control.
Lenarz underlined that the presence of Gen. Qasem Soleimani — commander of the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — in Iraqi Kurdistan over the last week was “no coincidence.” Soleimani is reported by some observers to have explicitly threatened the Kurds with the use of overwhelming force if they refused to withdraw from Kirkuk.
“Wherever Solaimani goes, he leaves a trail of death and destruction, and it’s no different this time,” Lenarz said.
Lenarz remarked that the Trump administration’s refusal to side with the Kurds meant that “Iran is laughing while a longterm US ally is humiliated and defeated.” Meanwhile, she said, her Syrian Kurdish contacts have expressed fear that they are next in line to be abandoned by the US to the Iranians, now that Raqqa — the capital of the ISIS “caliphate” — has fallen to Kurdish and Syrian opposition forces.
Lenarz also denounced the use of military equipment supplied by the US to the Iraqi government for external defense — including humvee military trucks and M1 Abrams tanks — in the assault on the Kurds. Earlier this week, hundreds of Kurds demonstrated outside the US Consulate in Erbil, the capital of the KRG, holding signs alerting Americans to “Iranian aggression with your weapons.”
“It’s hard to overstate what the Iranians have pulled off over the last two weeks,” Lenarz remarked. “By denying the clear evidence of Shia militia activities on the ground, and by abandoning the Kurds, Washington effectively legitimized Solaimani’s scheme.”
Originally promised independence by Britain and France at the end of World War I, the Kurds were instead divided between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria in 1923. Since that time, their history has been marked by continued attempts to gain independence with little outside assistance, and often resulting in persecution, ethnic cleansing and genocide. In 1988, Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad launched “Operation Anfal” in the same territories now occupied by Iranian-backed forces, using chemical weapons and high-explosive air attacks against the Kurdish population that left thousands dead, around 1.5 million destitute and more than 3,000 communities razed to the ground.
Commenting on the Operation Anfal atrocities, the British historian David McDowall wrote that at the time, “the West was generally inclined to dismiss Kurdish claims of genocide, either because they were politically inconvenient, or because it was suggested such reports were probably wild exaggerations.” McDowell went on to note that evidence collected by human rights groups after the First Gulf War “showed that previous Kurdish claims were not only incontrovertible, but also in many cases an understatement of the ordeal through which Iraq’s Kurds were then passing.”
The latest assault against the Kurds comes at the close of the military campaign against ISIS, in which Kurdish forces in both Iraq and Syria have played a critical role. On September 25, ninety-three percent of participants in an independence referendum in Kurdistan voted in favor of a sovereign Kurdish state. Kurdish leaders have now offered to “freeze” moves to implement the referendum in the hope of securing an end to the violence.