Kurdish forces, in a stunning series of events, have been forced to abandon lands they had controlled since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, after Iraqi troops and Iranian-backed Shia militias swept into areas that had been hoped to be an independent Kurdistan.
These peshmerga units were forced out of the towns of Bashiqa, Khanaqin, and Sinjar less than a day after surrendering the city of Kirkuk earlier. Any hopes for a Kurdish independent state now seem dashed. The Kurds had voted on an independence referendum on September 25 to hold onto their lands they’ve held since Saddam lost power and they’ve seized back in battles against the Islamic State.
The rapid fall of Kirkuk gave impetus to the capitulation across northern Iraq, with forces loyal to Baghdad sweeping unopposed into areas that military leaders thought they would have to fight for.
Instead, Iraqi troops found empty streets, shuttered shops and primitive roadblocks, which were quickly cleared, before the relaxed arrivals took up their new positions.
On the northern entrances to Kirkuk, a day after the rout, senior peshmerga officers appeared stunned by what had taken place. Few agreed to be interviewed as they set up new defences 25 miles away from the city.
Diggers gouged trenches in scorched brown earth, and bulldozers piled dirt into hilltop berms, while others cleared mounds on roads that had been intended to stop Iraqi advances.
The US and the Trump administration did not support the Kurds or their independence referendum. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “the vote and the results lack legitimacy.” Many of the Kurds look upon this action by the US as the ultimate betrayal of a faithful ally since the initial Gulf War of 1990.
Meanwhile, Tillerson said that the US will “continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.” That must be welcome news in Tehran, as the Kurds believe, as do many others that the Iranians are exerting far too much influence in Baghdad.
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