Shiite Iraqi militia leader Qais al-Khazaali threatens Kurdish troops

nsnbc : Qais al-Khazaali, a senior predominantly Shiite Iraqi paramilitary leader has repeated warnings to Kurdish troops against staying in the disputed province of Kirkuk, saying that his forces will fight to maintain the province’s affiliation with Iraq.

Qais al-Khazaali, secretary general of Asaeb Ahl al-Haq, a component of the Iranian-backed, predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces – Hash al-Shaabi, stressed that Kirkuk is an Iraqi city. He added that “we are ready to fight to defend it”.

Khazaali was speaking during a tribal gathering in Najaf. Local media also quoted him as claiming that  “attempts to divide Iraq is an Israeli scheme to distract us,” as he put it. Deriding the Kurdistan Autonomous Region’s will to self-determination as Israeli or Zionist scheme is a standard propaganda strategy that can easily be traced back to Tehran.

The oil and gas rich Kirkuk region with its city of Kirkuk is disputed. It was historically a predominantly Iraqi – Kurdish city until the Baath party regime under ex ruler Saddam Hussein implemented a program aimed to promote the migration of a substantial number of both Sunni and Shiite Arabs into the Kurdish region to change the demographics in favor of Baghdad.

“Any force that stands in the face of Iraqi forces at disputed areas will be stricken,” threatened Kazaali. “So will be the case with Nineveh Plain, Sinjar, Tal Afar and Rabia,” he added, referring to other areas in Nineveh province where Baghdad and Erbil dispute sovereignty. “No one can prevent the Mobilization from entering any Iraqi region, and there shall be a day when it enters Kirkuk and other disputed regions with the army”.

The Kurdistan Regional Government, during the independence referendum on September 25, said it will respect the will of the voters in disputed areas where the referendum was held. nsnbc international has contacted the Kurdistan High Election and Referendum Commission for detailed results including a breakdown of yes and no votes in regions and cities, but has thus far not received any response.

Khazaali  vowed, however, to avoid any clash with the Kurdish population. How he imagines a military confrontation between the Iranian – backed Hash al-Shaabi and Kurdish Peshmerga without affecting the civilian population hasn’t been explained. Mobilization leaders and forces have occasionally engaged in war of words and field clashes with Kurds over disputed regions since Popular Mobilization Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces engaged in a government-led campaign to retake areas occupied by Islamic State militants since 2014.

F/AK – nsnbc 09.10.2017