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October 30, 2017 3:18 pm

Persecuting Minorities Along the Way, Iran’s Final Target Is Israel, Kurdish Expert Declares

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Fears of religious and ethnic persecution in Kurdistan by the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi Shia militia are growing. Photo: ABN News Agency.

Two weeks after the launch of the Iranian-backed offensive on Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdish national cause has suffered a significant political defeat but remains alive nonetheless, a Kurdish political expert said on Monday.

Diliman Abdulkader — a Kurdish academic and writer born in Kirkuk and currently based in Washington, DC — told a call organized by the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) think tank that with more than 50 percent of the territory controlled by Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga lost in the Iranian onslaught, the time was ripe to focus attention on healing internal Kurdish divisions.

“The biggest contribution the international community could make is to help create a democratic Kurdistan internally,” Abdulkader said. “This is what will push back against Iranian influence.”

Abdulkader added, “Kurds should not accept anything less than independence as a goal, but until we solve our disputes internally, it will be very tough.”

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Abdulkader said that while the Peshmerga remains a solid fighting force, it has been weakened by the lack of a central command. Kurdish forces are divided between those under the command of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and those under the banner of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK.) Both parties have been shaken by major internal events over the last month — PUK leader Jalal Talabani, the first Kurdish president of Iraq, died on October 3, while on Monday, KDP leader Masoud Barzani announced he was stepping down as president of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Last week, sources within the KDP accused Talabani’s wife and sons of having made a separate deal with the Iranians that resulted in the Peshmerga withdrawals from the Kurdish-majority city of Kirkuk and its surrounding areas. Other accounts contend that Kurdish leaders were threatened with all-out war by Gen. Qassem Soleimani — the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — unless they immediately pulled their fighters out of the areas recently liberated from ISIS by the Peshmerga.

The subsequent offensive against the Kurds involved both Iraqi government forces and fighters from the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia, which functions as Iran’s military proxy on the ground, who have been using US-supplied weapons during the campaign.

“Christians, Kurds, Yezidis and other minorities in the area fear that Hashd al-Shaabi will be a second ISIS,” Abdulkader said.

Reports are already surfacing of alleged Hashd al-Shaabi persecution of Christians and Yezidis. The Suraya Organization for Culture and Media — a Christian advocacy organization — said on Monday in a statement, “Christian and Yezidi populated villages in the Khabur area on the Syrian-Turkish-Iraqi border have been under significant threats of attacks from the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi in the past days.” According to the statement, eight Christian and ten Yezidi villages, where 17,000 people reside, are being threatened by Hashd al-Shaabi.

Iran’s ultimate goal, Abdulkader asserted, is to reach Israel’s borders through a “Shia corridor” across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean coast. Acknowledging Israel’s position as the only state to have backed the September 25 referendum in Kurdish in which nearly 93 percent of participants voted for independence, he emphasized that “the biggest threat is against Israel.

“It’s in Israel’s interests to continue backing the Kurds,” Abdulkader said, pointing out as well that “Iran has the support of Iraq, Turkey and the Assad regime in Syria” — the Kurdish population of 30 million is divided between these four countries.

The threat to Israel could manifest sooner than expected, Abdulkader said, as he noted Iran was now in control of the Shingal region — from where Saddam Hussein’s regime launched Scud missiles at the Jewish state during the First Gulf War in 1991.

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