By Jamal Hashim BAGHDAD Iraq (Xinhua)
-- The hard-won victory in 2017 over
the terror group Islamic State (IS) by Iraq is overshadowed by a
growing conflict with the Kurds following a controversial
In early 2017, Iraqi
forces advanced into the city of Mosul, IS’ de facto capital,
after grueling fighting with IS militants armed with
booby-traps, snipers and suicide bombers.
On July 10, Iraqi
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the
commander-in-chief of the Iraqi forces, formally declared full
liberation of Mosul, after nine months of fierce fighting.
The recapturing of
Mosul was a great victory and turning point in the Iraqi
anti-terrorism war, as it symbolized the collapse of IS.
After the liberation
of Mosul, Iraqi forces launched several offensives to dislodge
IS militants from remaining smaller redoubts in Tal Afar area
near Mosul, Hawijah Pocket in southwestern Kirkuk, al-Qaim and
Rawa areas near the border with Syria in the western province of
On Dec. 9, Abadi
officially declared full liberation of Iraq from IS militants,
sealing a final victory in the three-year war.
“I announce to the
Iraqi people and all the world that our forces have reached the
last redoubts of Daesh (IS) and have raised the Iraqi flag over
areas of western Anbar (province) which was the last occupied
land by IS,” Abadi said in a televised speech.
But there are still
small groups of IS militants hiding in urban areas as sleeper
cells or fled to deserts and rugged areas to seek a safe haven.
They are still capable of carrying out attacks from time to time
against the security forces and civilians.
For years after the
U.S. invasion into Iraq in 2003, the semi-autonomous region of
Kurdistan in northern Iraq has been at odds with the Iraqi
central government over wealth distribution and lands outside
The Kurds consider
the northern oil-rich province of Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh,
Diyala and Salahudin provinces as the “disputed areas” which
they want to be incorporated into their Kurdish region, a move
fiercely opposed by the Arabs and Turkomans living there and by
The ethnically mixed
Kirkuk province, located in the south of the Kurdish region, is
rich in oil resources and has a population of estimated 1, 25
million. It has been controlled by the Peshmerga since 2014.
The dispute between
Baghdad and the region escalated into conflict after the Sept.
25 referendum that approved the independence of the Kurdistan
region and the disputed areas.
But the Kurds later
lost the battle of Kirkuk, as the independence move is opposed
by most countries, especially by Iraq’s neighbors such as
Turkey, Iran and Syria, which fear it will threaten their own
territorial integrity, as a large population of Kurds live in
On Oct. 16, Abadi
ordered government forces to enter the oil-rich Kirkuk province
and took control of the city of Kirkuk, as well as key military
sites and oilfields.
This undermined the
Kurds’ hope of creating a viable independent state, forcing
Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani to show conciliatory signals,
including freezing the outcome of the referendum. But Abadi said
Baghdad will accept only cancelation of the controversial vote
before any negotiation between the two sides could begin.
There have been
catastrophic consequences for the Kurdish region after the
referendum as the Kurds lost much of their gains that they got,
especially after the 2003 Iraqi war launched by the U.S.
The defeat in Kirkuk
put Barzani under high pressure, as many Kurds and Barzani’s
rival political parties held him responsible for the loss.
On Oct. 29, Barzani
told the Kurdish parliament in a letter he was to step down as
president of the Kurdish region from Nov. 1. Iraq’s Supreme
Federal Court on Nov. 20 issued a verdict, ruling the referendum
Soon after Barzani’s
resignation, his frustrated supporters attacked and looted
offices of Kurdish political parties opposed to Barzani in Duhok
province, while other protesters stormed the Kurdish parliament
building when it met to approve Barzani’s resignation.
division and economic crisis led hundreds of Kurds to take to
streets on Dec. 18 in several cities and towns in Sulaimaniyah
province in northeastern Iraq.
The protests turned
violent later as some demonstrators attacked the offices of all
five Kurdish political parties, and set fire to the office of
the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Barzani.
Five people were
killed and more than 100 others were wounded during violent
clashes between Kurdish protesters and security forces.
On Dec. 20, two
Kurdish parties, Gorran and the Islamic Group of Kurdistan (Komela),
decided to withdraw from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Kurdish Parliament Speaker Yousif Mohammed, from Gorran
Movement, also decided to quit after a demand by his party.
However, it is
widely expected that Abadi will continue to take measures
against the Kurdish region to strip it of more power.
between Baghdad and Erbil are expected to start in the coming
year to resolve the referendum crisis, as Iraq will hold
national elections on May 12.
The future of the
Baghdad-Erbil standoff largely depends on the new generation of
Kurdish leaders after the death of the veteran Jalal Talabani
and the resignation of Barzani.
Turkey, Iraq join forces
against Kurdish independence bid
ANKARA Turkey (Xinhua) --
Turkey and Iraq declared on Wednesday their
willingness to boost bilateral cooperation and join forces
against northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG),
following last month independence referendum.
“Turkey had to
impose sanctions as the illegitimate referendum was held despite
all of our warnings,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
told reporters at the presidential complex after meeting Iraqi
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who is visiting Ankara, insisting
that “Turkey is supporting the territorial integrity of Iraq.”
Erdogan said that
trilateral talks between Turkey, Iran and Iraq in the aftermath
of the controversial vote in the Kurdish region “are heading
towards a positive point.”
“We have discussed
what political, military, cultural, trade and economic steps we
could take” to boost relations, Erdogan said, insisting that his
country would now consider the central Baghdad administration as
sole interlocutor for improving ties with the neighboring
Abadi hailed the
“fraternal” relations with Turkey and remarked that the battle
against the Islamic State (IS) was coming towards an end with
the government forces having retaken recently its Iraqi
headquarters of Mossoul.
He also said that
Iraq’s authorities will continue exerting the federal power,
preserving the country’s unity.
Last week, Turkey
said it had closed its air space to northern Iraq and work to
hand control of the main border crossing into the region to the
Iraqi central government.
While Abadi was
traveling Wednesday to Ankara to have talks with Turkish
leaders, Iraq’s KRG said it’s prepared to freeze the results of
last month’s independence referendum that triggered deadly
clashes with government troops and hurt oil exports.
The KRG also
proposed an immediate ceasefire and talks with Baghdad “on the
basis of the constitution.”
“As Iraq and
Kurdistan are faced with grave and dangerous circumstances, we
are all obliged to act responsibly in order to prevent further
violence and clashes,” the KRG said in a statement on its
More than 90 percent
of Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in the non-binding
referendum, which was fiercely opposed by Baghdad as well as
neighboring countries such as Turkey and Iran, fearing it could
embolden their own Kurdish minorities.
government sent troops this month to retake disputed areas that
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters had seized in 2014 after IS routed
Iraqi forces, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, important
also for Turley because of the its turcoman minority.
The clashes led to
the interruption of output at some of Iraq’s northern oil
fields, reducing exports. Output halted at some sections of the
giant Kirkuk oil field and other nearby deposits after federal
forces captured them from the Kurds and as some workers and
guards stayed away from work.
Iraq had been
exporting close to 600,000 barrels a day on average this year
from fields in Kirkuk and the Kurdish enclave, shipping them
together through the same pipeline to Turkey’s Mediterranean
port of Ceyhan.
Iraqi Prime Minister
Haider al-Abadi has hinted that his government wants to take
control of revenue generated from Kurdish oil exports, following
the controversial ban on international flights to and from the
also said that Turkey was ready to give all support to Baghdad
as it seeks to reopen the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, through which
Iraq stopped sending oil in 2014.
Abadi said in a
tweet that his government wanted to pay monthly salaries of KRG
employees with money from Kurdish oil sales.
control of oil revenues is in order to pay KRG employee salaries
in full and so that money will not go to the corrupt,” Abadi
Turkey and Baghdad
who had difficult ties in the past over Turkey’s presence at a
military base in northern Iraq, have operated a spectacular
rapprochement after the KRG referendum.
Ankara has since
been training with the Iraqi army, and achieved to rally
Teheran’s support in order to isolate the Kurdish regime with
whom she enjoyed vast trade relations.