by WorldTribune Staff, October 16, 2017
The U.S.-led coalition said it will remain neutral and urged both sides to avoid escalating tensions amid reports that Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces exchanged fire near Kirkuk.
The Peshmerga, a key coalition ally in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) since 2014, said the Iraqi advancement in Kirkuk was an attack and a “declaration of war” on the people of Kurdistan.
“Coalition forces and advisers are not supporting Government of Iraq or Kurdistan Regional Government activities near Kirkuk, but are aware of reports of a limited exchange of fire during predawn hours of darkness Oct. 16,” a coalition statement said.
“We believe the engagement this morning was a misunderstanding and not deliberate as two elements attempted to link up under limited visibility conditions.”
Maj. Gen. Robert White, commanding general of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command – Operation Inherent Resolve, said that “All parties must remain focused on the defeat of our common enemy, ISIS, in Iraq.”
The Peshmerga General Command, in a statement issued on Oct. 16, said that Iraqi forces, including the Iranian-affiliated Hashd al-Shaabi militia, used American weapons they received for the war against ISIS.
U.S. Sen. John McCain warned of “severe consequences” for “misuse” of American arms against Kurdish forces.
“The United States provided equipment and training to the Government of Iraq to fight ISIS and secure itself from external threats – not to attack elements of one of its own regional governments, which is a longstanding and valuable partner of the United States,” McCain said.
“Make no mistake, there will be severe consequences if we continue to see American equipment misused in this way.”
McCain also expressed concern about reports of Iranian involvement in the ongoing conflict in Kirkuk.
“I am deeply concerned by media reports of military advances by Iraqi government forces against Kurdish positions near Kirkuk. I am especially concerned by media reports that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces are part of the assault.”
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Oct. 16 it is prepared to stand by Baghdad to end the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey claims to be in Kirkuk.
“We once again emphasize the importance we attach to the protection of Iraq’s political unity and territorial integrity,” the written statement read, as reported by Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News. “We also underline our readiness for any kind of cooperation with the Iraqi government on the termination of the PKK presence in Iraqi territories.”
The Foreign Ministry also stated that it is closely following moves made by the Iraqi government for the “establishment of the constitutional order in Kirkuk,” which also has a large Turkmen population.
The Foreign Ministry also threatened the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) against making “another mistake” by allowing PKK to remain in the region, warning that the KRG “will be held responsible if it lets the PKK find shelter.”