Ankara is considering sanctions against Erbil over the referendum: Erdoğan

Erdoğan also said Turkey was considering counter-measures, including imposing sanctions, against Kurdish northern Iraq over a planned referendum. Iraqi Kurdish authorities have defied growing international pressure to call off the referendum on independence. Iraq’s neighbors fear it will fuel unrest among their own Kurdish populations and Western allies said it could detract from the fight against Daesh. Turkey has brought forward a cabinet meeting and national security council session to Friday over the referendum, Erdoğan said. He said that parliament would also convene for an extraordinary meeting on Saturday. “Without any further delay we are going to discuss what kind of sanctions should be imposed and when the sanctions will be imposed,” he said without elaborating on what they might be. Turkish troops are also carrying out military exercises near the border and Erdoğan said on Saturday the resolution on troop deployment abroad will be submitted to parliament for a vote.

‘Turkish troops will be deployed inside Idlib’

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said on Thursday Turkey will deploy troops in Syria’s northern Idlib region as part of a so-called de-escalation agreement brokered by Russia last month. The “de-escalation” zones, agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran, would be further discussed in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his trip to Ankara next week, Erdoğan said in an interview with Reuters while he was in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly. “Under the agreement, Russians are maintaining security outside Idlib and Turkey will maintain the security inside Idlib region,” Erdoğan said. “The task is not easy … With Putin we will discuss additional steps needed to be taken in order to eradicate terrorists once and for all to restore peace.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during an interview with Reuters in New York [21/9/2017]

Strategic partners

Meeting Erdoğan on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday praised his leadership and said he “has become a friend of mine.” Relations between Turkey and the United States were strained over Turkish security officials involved in street fighting with protesters during a visit to Washington in May.

Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Daesh in Syria and Iraq but Ankara’s ties with Washington are strained over support provided by the United States to the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG. Viewed by Turkey as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the YPG has been among the most effective partners on the ground in the U.S.-led fight against the Daesh. Erdoğan warned Washington that arming the YPG could end up hurting Washington and its allies. “Weapons are being deployed to YPG … We are strategic allies with the United States …, we should avoid helping YPG,” he said.

Sources: Reuters/Syria & Iraq News

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U.S. ‘strongly opposes’ Kurdistan Region independence referendum

The U.S. has sent its starkest signal yet that it ‘strongly opposes’ Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum. In a statement issued by the State Department, the U.S. government warns that the referendum will hurt the Kurds as ‘the costs of proceeding with the referendum are high for all Iraqis, including Kurds’ and states that ‘all of Iraq’s neighbors, and virtually the entire international community, also oppose’ it.

The United States strongly opposes the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s referendum on independence, planned for September 25. All of Iraq’s neighbors, and virtually the entire international community, also oppose this referendum. The United States urges Iraqi Kurdish leaders to accept the alternative, which is a serious and sustained dialogue with the central government, facilitated by the United States and United Nations, and other partners, on all matters of concern, including the future of the Baghdad-Erbil relationship.

If this referendum is conducted, it is highly unlikely that there will be negotiations with Baghdad, and the above international offer of support for negotiations will be foreclosed.

The costs of proceeding with the referendum are high for all Iraqis, including Kurds. Already the referendum has negatively affected Defeat-ISIS coordination to dislodge ISIS from its remaining areas of control in Iraq. The decision to hold the referendum in disputed areas is especially de-stabilizing, raising tensions which ISIS and other extremist groups are now seeking to exploit. The status of disputed areas and their boundaries must be resolved through dialogue, in accordance with Iraq’s constitution, not by unilateral action or force.

Finally, the referendum may jeopardize Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional trade relations, and international assistance of all kinds, even though none of Iraq’s partners wish this to be the case. This is simply the reality of this very serious situation. In contrast, genuine dialogue, the alternative, which we urge Kurdish leaders to embrace, holds the promise of resolving a great many of Iraqi Kurds’ legitimate grievances, and establishing a new and constructive course for Baghdad-Erbil relations that benefit all the people of Iraq.

The Kurds can be proud already of what the referendum process has produced, including more Kurdish unity, reviving the Kurdish parliament for the first time in nearly two years, and placing important issues on the international stage, with partners and friends prepared to build on the spirit of cooperation seen between Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga in the campaign against ISIS to help resolve outstanding issues. ‎Unfortunately, the referendum next week will jeopardize all of this momentum and more.

The referendum itself is now all the more unnecessary given the alternative path that has been prepared and endorsed by the United States and the international community.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Iraqi Prime Minister Heider al-Abadi during a meeting in Washington DC [March 22, 2017]
Sources: Syria & Iraq News

UN’s Guterres says Kurdistan referendum would ‘detract’ from the need to defeat Daesh

The Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres has released a statement on the upcoming Kurdistan Region independence referendum, claims that ‘any unilateral decision to hold a referendum at this time would detract from the need to defeat ISIL’ and reiterates his respect for the ‘sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Iraq’.

The Secretary-General believes that any unilateral decision to hold a referendum at this time would detract from the need to defeat ISIL, as well as the much-needed reconstruction of the regained territories and the facilitation of a safe, voluntary and dignified return of the more than three million refugees and internally displaced people.

The Secretary-General respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and considers that all outstanding issues between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government should be resolved through structured dialogue and constructive compromise.

The Secretary-General calls upon the leaders across Iraq to approach this matter with patience and restraint. The United Nations stands ready to support such efforts.

António Guterres

Source: United Nations/Syria & Iraq News

Turkey’s Erdoğan to discuss Kurdistan referendum with Iraqi PM al-Abadi

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday he would meet Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during his visit to the United States this week and discuss northern Iraq’s planned independence referendum.

Speaking to reporters before departing for New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, Erdoğan said Ankara and Baghdad shared the same view regarding the referendum, adding that it would divide Iraq.

Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi and Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan during a meeting in Ankara, December 25, 2014.

Source: Reuters/Syria & Iraq News

Iraqi army readies to retake Hawija

Iraqi forces backed by tribal fighters are manoeuvring into position in the western desert bordering Syria to launch an offensive against one of the last bastions of Daesh.

The jihadist group has suffered a string of defeats on the battlefield that have left in tatters its “caliphate”, three years after it was declared. After driving Daesh out of Nineveh province earlier this year, the Iraqi government set its eyes on Hawija, north of Baghdad, as well as the towns of Al-Qaim, Rawa and Anna in the western desert.

On Tuesday an AFP correspondent who toured the region saw several artillery units positioning themselves around Rawa and Anna, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the border with Syria. Moving in clouds of dust, gunners set up their equipment in the rugged terrain and dug trenches before test-firing mortar rounds.

Further in the distance the infantry deployed, backed by tribal fighters. Sheikh Qatari Kahlan, who commands one of the tribal units, said his forces were ready for battle. “All the tribes wanted to take part to liberate the region and fight against Daesh,” he told AFP. “Tribe members inside Anna and Rawa are giving us information and assuring us that the battle will be ferocious but quick,” he added, pointing an automatic rifle at the horizon. Up ahead a few palm trees dotted an otherwise desert landscape, through which runs an asphalt road.

An Iraqi general, who declined to be named, estimated that “more than 1,500 jihadists” were in Anna, Rawa and Al-Qaim. Al-Qaim lies closer to the Syria border and just across from Deir Ez-Zor province where Daesh jihadists are facing separate offensives from US-supported SDF and government troops backed by Russia. The Iraqi general said the battle for the three towns could begin after an expected assault on Hawija — 300 kilometres (185 miles) — or simultaneously.

‘We know their methods’

Another Iraqi commander, Qotaiba Assaad, said he expected the offensive to retake Rawa, Anna and Al-Qaim to be “quick and to our advantage”. “We have fought Daesh for three years and we know their methods: car bombs, snipers and bombs,” said Assaad, who set up his unit in Al-Sagra a few kilometres away from Rawa and Anna. Lieutenant Colonel Jamal Amr said huge efforts and “a real coordination between all our forces” are needed to keep the jihadists from across the porous Iraq-Syria border.

The battle for Hawija is expected to be more complicated because of its location in oil-rich Kirkuk province, which is at the centre of a long-running dispute between the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad and regional Kurdish authorities. An offensive targeting Hawija could also be postponed due to a referendum on Kurdish independence planned for September 25 — which Baghdad has called “unconstitutional” and “untimely”. On Tuesday Iraq’s parliament voted against plans by Kurdish leaders to hold the referendum.

Iraqi forces and paramilitary units announced plans to retake Hawija on September 1, a day after recapturing Tal Afar and weeks after ousting Daesh jihadists from second city Mosul. Daesh once held almost one-third of Iraq’s territory, but the US-led coalition supporting the fight against them said after the fall of Tal Afar that the jihadists were left with no more than 10 percent of that.

Sources: AFP/Syria & Iraq News

Iraqi forces retake Mosul’s main government building and museum

Iraqi forces said Tuesday they had seized the main government offices in Mosul and its famed museum as they made steady progress in their battle to retake the city’s west from jihadists.

News of the advances came on the third day of a renewed offensive against Daesh in west Mosul — the largest remaining urban stronghold in the “caliphate” declared by the jihadists in 2014. Supported by the US-led coalition bombing Daesh in Iraq and Syria, Iraqi forces began their push against west Mosul on February 19. The advance slowed during several days of bad weather but was renewed on Sunday. Recent advances have brought government troops and police closer to Mosul’s densely populated Old City, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still be trapped under Daesh rule.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement that federal police and the elite Rapid Response unit had been able to “liberate” the headquarters for the Nineveh provincial government. They also seized control of the Al-Hurriyah bridgehead, it said, in a step towards potentially relinking west Mosul with the city’s east, which government forces seized from the jihadists earlier in the offensive.

Iraqi security forces advance during fighting against Daesh jihadists in western Mosul. [Photo by Khalid Mohammed/AP]

Site of artifact destruction

All the bridges crossing the Tigris in Mosul have been damaged or destroyed, and Iraqi forces would either have to repair them or install floating bridges to reconnect the two banks of the river, which divides the city.

Officers said Tuesday that security forces had also managed to recapture the Mosul museum, where the jihadists destroyed priceless artifacts, releasing a video of their rampage in February 2015. The video showed militants at the museum knocking statues off their plinths and smashing them to pieces. In another scene a jackhammer was used to deface a large Assyrian winged bull at an archaeological site in the city.

The jihadists’ attacks on ancient heritage in Iraq and Syria have sparked widespread international outrage and fears for some of the world’s most important archaeological sites. The museum was on a police list released Tuesday of sites recently recaptured from Daesh, which also included Mosul’s central bank building, which the jihadists looted along with other banks in 2014, seizing tens of millions of dollars.

Other sites recaptured during the last few days include the provincial police headquarters, the courts complex and the water and electricity directorates. The recent fighting in west Mosul has forced more than 50,000 people to flee their homes, according to the International Organization for Migration. But the number who have fled is still just a fraction of the 750,000 people who are believed to have stayed on in west Mosul under Daesh rule.

Sources: Syria & Iraq News/AFP