The Iraqi media reported on Wednesday the Kurdish Peshmerga forces coordinated with Iraqi forces to fight militants groups in Tuz Khurmato, where there is a presence of ISIS and the so-called White Banners movement.
The Kurds were angered after the Iraqi army with backing of Iran took the disputed territories, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in October 2017, after the Kurds held an independence referendum on 25th of September. Heavy clashes took place near Makhmour and Rabia resulting in casualties on both sides. But now it seems the relations are improving a little bit.
“Iraq Joint Forces said earlier this week they were coordinating with Peshmerga for Kirkuk Operations, and Iraq Joint Ops Commander referred to Peshmerga as our brothers. Then there is the Tuz operation. There are some open spaces between Iraq and Pesh lines in Tuz,” former US advisor to the counter-terrorism service in Iraq David M. Witty, who is now an adjunct professor for Norwich University, told the Region.
“It is a good sign. Militarily, they are starting to work with each other, placing security above politics,” he added.
A coalition official told The Region that they couldn’t comment on the operation. But confirmed that the US encourages Kurdish-Iraqi cooperation.
“It is only by working together that we will be able to accomplish our mission of ensuring the lasting defeat of Daesh. The ISF and the Peshmerga have a common goal of a prosperous, unified and stable Iraq where the interests of all groups are taken into account,” CJTF-OIR Public Affairs Officer Colonel Thomas F. Veale told the Region.
“The Coalition is the Government of Iraq’s security partner of choice. At the request of the ISF, the Coalition will continue to provide training and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support (ISR), as well as precision air and ground fires to prevent the resurgence of Daesh,” he said.
“Coalition air support has significantly declined as the security situation has improved, and the Iraqi Air Force is able to provide more of their own close air support for missions to defeat Daesh. The ISF is our trusted partner in Iraq,” he added.
Speaking to The Region, Ceng Sagnic, Co-editor of Turkey Scope and Coordinator of the Kurdish Studies Program at the Moshe Dayan Center in Israel, insists that the cooperation is only between certain factions of the Patriotic Union Party (PUK), and not all of the Peshmerga forces.
The Peshmerga forces themselves are divided between those who pledge allegiance to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and, that those that work under PUK, although there also joint brigades.
“The Peshmerga contribution to ongoing operations are only by some certain factions of PUK, which are truly alarmed with the speculated rise of militant Kurdish nationalist groups in Garmian and Tuz Khourmatu. It is a win-win for Iraq and PUK that both will be able to extend and expand their influence in the region through these operations,” he said.
“There is no proof that a group called White Banners exist in the way claimed by Iraq and PMU, and I am seriously suspecting that referenced operations target Kurdish groups. This does not mean an ultimate rejection of the probability that some remnants of the Iraqi Sunni insurgency might have found refuge in those areas though,” he added.
“For the probability of a continued Iraq-Peshmerga cooperation in the disputed territories, I would say such a development can take place depending on the coalition's stance towards PMU because the dominant Iraqi force in those regions are Iranian-backed militias,” he stated.
“Iraq and PMU needs expanded control in eastern Kirkuk and Salah Ad-Din for the security of oil exports to Iran as agreed with Tehran previously. In such case, the PMU-PUK cooperation can only be regarded as an Iranian success, and not that of the coalition's. It is a win-win mediated by Iran,” he concluded.
Also Reuters reported on Wednesday that Iraqi forces launched a security operation along a planned oil transit route to Iran, with the aim of “destroying sleeper cells” in the mountainous border area where two armed groups operate.