Kurdish Region Peshmerga forces. File Photo: Bilind T Abdullah/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The decision to deploy Peshmerga officers to a Kirkuk military base has brought opposition from the Turkmen front in the province while an Iraqi Shiite MP ensures the move will not mean the complete return of Kurdish forces.
The Turkmen front in Kirkuk has expressed concern about the return of Peshmerga following the move to deploy several Peshmerga officers to Kirkuk’s K1 military base as part of joint coordination centers to fight Islamic State (ISIS) remnants in areas with a security vacuum.
“The war against ISIS should not be an excuse to create a political achievement on account of the province’s security and stability,” read a Saturday statement from the Turkmen front. “Any coordination center with forces of the (Kurdistan) Region has to be outside the administrative borders of the Kirkuk province because its presence inside Kirkuk violates the constitution and parliamentary decisions.”
There is a void of security in areas disputed between the Kurdistan Region and the Iraqi government, where forces from neither side operate. Iraqi forces drove Peshmerga out of these areas in 2017 after the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum but have not been able to cement their control in areas with rugged terrain that are home to ethnically mixed populations. In some areas, the gap between the two security forces is 40 kilometers wide.
The potential return of Peshmerga forces seems to disturb the Turkmen front, despite the recent ISIS uptick of terrorist activities in the area.
MP Badr al-Ziyadi, a member of the parliamentary committee in the Sairoon alliance that is supported by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, justified the concern and ensured there would be no official return of Peshmerga forces.
“They have experience with them, there were problems before, that’s why they don’t want Peshmerga to return to Kirkuk,” Ziyadi told Iraqi state media on Sunday, referring to the Turkmen front and the Popular Mobilization Forces. “According to the agreement, Peshmerga forces are not returning.”
Ziyadi added only a number of officers would return as part of a joint coordination center which would only act on orders from the Iraqi prime minister.
A Peshmerga official also reiterated the decision was not for Kurdish forces to return to Kirkuk on Saturday.
“There is no decision for the deployment of Peshmerga forces to Kirkuk,” Major General Qaraman Kamal, vice chief of staff of Peshmerga forces, told Rudaw. “What is decided upon is that the operations cells will begin their work, consisting of military operations, intelligence, and coordination between Peshmerga forces and Iraqi forces (PMF).”
The war against terrorism is in fact the main concern for many others in the Iraqi security forces.
“Daesh [Islamic State or ISIS] does not distinguish between Kurds, Peshmerga or the [Iraqi] army. They target everyone and they are a common enemy,” Brig. Gen. Jasim Mohammed, commander of the Khurmatu Joint Operations Command, told Rudaw’s Hiwa Hussamaddin on Saturday.
The uptick in ISIS attacks has also concerned the American side along with the Iraqi.
The group has “successfully exploited gaps in security coverage in disputed areas along the boundary that separates the Iraqi Kurdistan Region from the rest of Iraq,” the Pentagon stated in its latest quarterly report on anti-ISIS operations.
ISIS militants in the disputed areas threaten local populations, extort money, and kidnap and kill both civilians and security forces.
Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani said in a conference in Erbil on Wednesday that ISIS is more active than it used to be in the past.
“We find ISIS more active than before in the areas known as Article 140 areas, and it constantly seeks to sabotage stability and security in these areas, and if we want political stability to be achieved in Iraq, these problems must be solved,” he said, referring to the disputed areas.
In its weekly propaganda newspaper al-Naba, ISIS claimed on Thursday that it had conducted 9 attacks across Iraq between May 13 and May 19, killing and injuring 11 people, a toll significantly lower than in previous weeks.