Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Does Threat of Iraq Civil War Endanger Canadian Special Forces?

By: David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen 

Is civil war looming in Iraq?

Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi seems to think that could be a possibility. In an interview with the Associated Press, he warned a “civil war” could erupt over the Kurdish-administered city of Kirkuk.

The city of Kirkuk falls outside the autonomous Kurdish region in the northeast Iraq. But the Kurdish referendum for independence from Iraq included the city.

Allawi is particularly worried about how militias in Iraq will react to the Kurds retaining Kirkuk.

The head of the Asaib al-Haq militia Qais Khazali warned worshippers in a sermon Sunday that Iraq’s Kurds were planning to claim much of north Iraq, including Kirkuk, for an independent state, after Iraq’s Kurds voted for independence in a controversial but non-binding referendum two weeks ago, Associated Press reported.

That, he said, is a “foreign occupation.”

But Allawi, a former prime minister, told Associated Press that any move by the country’s Popular Mobilization Front militias, which include the Asaib al-Haq, to enter Kirkuk would open the door to “violent conflict.”

“The government claims they control the Popular Mobilization Forces. If they do they should restrain them, rather than go into a kind of civil war. And there should be a restraint on Masoud Barzani and the Peshmerga not to take aggressive measures to control these lands,” said Allawi.

In July, Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of U.S. Special Forces Command, suggested any moves toward independence by the Kurds, who now control the city of Kirkuk and 40 per cent of Iraq’s oil, will lead to conflict. The Iraqis will not stand by and allow independence to happen. “I don’t think they’re going to say, sure, take the oilfields and Kirkuk and go your way,” Thomas told a security forum. “It’s not going to go peacefully.”

If fighting breaks out between the Kurds and Iraqis what happens to the Canadian special forces in the Kurdish area? Are they pulled out or do they sit tight?

There is no word from the government or Canadian military. They have been relatively silent on the Kurdish independence vote and its implications for the Canadian military mission.

Since the fall of 2014, Canada has been providing equipment and military training to Kurdish troops in northern Iraq as part of the coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Barzani has cited Quebec’s quest for independence as one of the reasons why he and his fellow Kurds are entitled to their own country.

The Kurds were able to use the war against ISIL to seize portions of Iraq, such as Kirkuk. That gave them control of 40 per cent of Iraq’s oil and a steady flow of cash from oil sales to bolster their quest for independence.

In November 2015, Kurdish forces, with support from coalition fighter jets including Canadian CF-18s, helped push ISIL out of the city of Sinjar. The Kurdish flag – not Iraq’s – was erected over the city. “Long live Kurdistan,” Kurdish gunmen shouted as they fired their weapons into the air.

Barzani has said the Kurds will never surrender any of the territory they now hold in Iraq.

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