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

U.S. asks Barzani to ‘postpone’ KRG independence referendum

Unites States government has asked the Kurdistan Regional Government to ‘postpone’ the independence referendum planned for September 25 and reiterates that “the issues between the Kurdistan Region and the federal government in Baghdad should be addressed through dialogue between the two sides”.

Rex Tillerson

KRG president Masoud Barzani‏ announced on Friday night that he held a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and that the top US diplomat expressed the request of the US government for the postponement of the referendum. According to the announcement, president Barzani “expressed his gratitude to the people and government of the United States for their support to the Kurdistan Region, especially against the terrorists of the Islamic State. On the issue of the postponement of the referendum, the President stated that the people of the Kurdistan Region would expect guarantees and alternatives for their future.”

It is the first time the U.S. government explicitly expresses its opposition to the referendum, while it is worth noting that Barzani did not reject the request, but asked for ‘guarantees’.

Update 1 – 12/8/2017 10:00 GMT | Zebari: “The date is standing, Sept. 25, no change”

Barzani’s close adviser Hoshyar Zebari says that the referendum date has not change despite the U.S. request to postpone it. “The date is standing, Sept. 25, no change”, he told Reuters on Saturday.

The battle for Mosul begins

The offensive to liberate Mosul from Daesh control has begun, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised statement early Monday.

“Our dearest people in Nineveh province, the victory bell has rung, and the operations to liberate Mosul have begun,” he said. “I am announcing today the beginning of these heroic operations to liberate you from the brutality and terrorism of Daesh. God willing, we will meet soon on the ground of Mosul where we will all celebrate the liberation and your freedom.”

Al-Abadi emphasized that only the Iraqi armed forces and police will take part in Mosul operation, implying no involvement of Turkish, American or Iranian military forces.

Iraqi PM announces in televised speech the start of the operation to recapture Mosul from Daesh [17/10/2016]
Iraqi PM announces in televised speech the start of the operation to recapture Mosul from Daesh [17/10/2016]

The fight is expected to last weeks, if not months, and if the battles to wrest Falluja and Ramadi from Daesh’ grip are indicators, Mosul will be a messy melee. The assault’s buildup has been ongoing for some time. US-led coalition and Iraqi forces have hammered Daesh targets with airstrikes for more than a year.

The Nineveh Liberation Operations Center, which was set up to coordinate the offensive, has brought in dozens of American and British advisers. A US artillery unit has provided cover for operations south of Mosul.

On Daesh’ side of the fight, there have been reports of a growing network of tunnels leaving the city. The terrorist outfit has also allowed wounded fighters to leave Mosul and freed prisoners jailed for low-level offenses. The militants were also taking measures to combat the effectiveness of airstrikes. Skirmishes flared outside Mosul in the days leading up to the battle, and Sunday brought several signs that the fight for Mosul was near, including an airstrike on one of the city’s main bridges. Not only did Abadi declare, “God willing, the decisive battle will begin soon,” but leaflets proclaiming, “It’s victory time,” also rained over the city Sunday.

US playing supporting role

The 30,000-strong force tasked with recapturing the largest city under the terrorist group’s control comprises many groups, with the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga making up the bulk.

Iraqi security forces are expected to lead the ground campaign with the backing of coalition airstrikes and advisers, US officials have said. The US recently announced the deployment of 600 additional troops to aid in the city’s capture. The deployment brings the number of US personnel to more than 5,200, the Pentagon says. “There are no major objectives after that. This is it. This is the last big holdout in Iraq for ISIL,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, using another acronym for the terrorist group.

Before becoming the top prize in the Iraqi portion of the militant group’s self-declared caliphate, Mosul was inhabited by more than 2 million people. About 1 million residents remain today — in the clutches of an organization known to use civilians as shields.

Potential humanitarian disaster

The UN refugee agency says most of the remaining residents could flee once the fighting is underway, creating what a UN representative says could be “one of the largest man-made displacement crises of recent times.” Camps are being set up to accommodate the refugees, who will need transport and basic necessities once the Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga screen them as they leave the city.

Al-Abadi told CNN in September that forces “are planning for a fight for many months.” Some Peshmerga commanders have predicted it will take at least three months to clear the city as Daesh leaves sleeper cells behind. Others expect a quicker victory, with Daesh leaders retreating to the desert west of Mosul.

Daesh prepares

Bracing for the offensive, Daesh in recent days allowed wounded fighters in Mosul to move to Raqqa, Syria, the group’s de facto capital, a source inside Mosul said. Daesh also released some low-level prisoners, including those jailed for their beards, cigarettes or clothing, the source added.

A tunnel network large enough to accommodate motorbikes stretches from the outskirts of the city to the nearby village of Hamdania, according to the source. US military officials estimate there are 3,500 to 5,000 Daesh fighters in Mosul. Daesh supporters put the number at 7,000.

Plumes of black smoke rose from oil-filled trenches on fire outside northeastern Mosul, an attempt by Daesh to obscure its fighters’ positions during airstrikes, military sources said.

In northern Iraq, the main road to Mosul is dotted with villages deserted in expectation of the fight.

Holding force

At checkpoints, Daesh fighters wore masks to disguise their identities in what is seen as a sign of decreasing confidence, as well as concerns about retaliation from Mosul residents. There is concern among diplomats and Kurdish officials about plans for stabilizing and governing Mosul once Daesh is evicted, and according to US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a holding force of about 15,000 Sunni elements was being trained and equipped to secure the city once it’s liberated.

The push to Mosul is being felt more than 200 miles south, in Baghdad, where Daesh has launched suicide attacks. At least 34 people were killed in a Saturday suicide bombing at a Shiite gathering in the capital, police sources said.

Daesh’ last stand in Iraq

Mosul, a city almost 3,000 years old, would represent Daesh’ last stand in Iraq. Though Daesh seeks to create an Islamic caliphate, it has lost considerable territory in the past two years, being driven out of Tikrit, Ramadi and Fallujah.

Kurdish forces have dug in to the east, north and west of Mosul, and Iraqi forces have been moving slowly from the south.

Iraqi security forces also recently recaptured the Qayyara oil refinery and seized the Qayyara airbase, Iraq’s third-largest. The airbase is expected to be a vital staging ground in the battle for Mosul.

On Friday, al-Abadi visited oil-rich Kirkuk province, where he met with leaders ahead of the operation to liberate the Daesh-controlled city of Hawija, about 100 miles south of Mosul. It has been under Daesh control since 2014, and Iraqi security forces estimate about 1,200 Daesh fighters occupy the city and nearby villages. Al-Abadi inspected military units and spoke to security officials. He said he was preparing for a military operation to take back more cities from Daesh.

Having nearly cleared Daesh from Anbar and Salahuddin provinces, the retaking of Hawija would be a coup as it would lessen or eliminate the threat to Iraqi and Peshmerga forces who would have their backs to the city during the battle for Mosul.

Sources: CNN/Syria & Iraq News

Erdoğan and Barzani discuss fight against PKK, Gülen

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday discussed strategy in fighting Islamic State and Kurdish PKK militants with visiting Iraqi Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani, sources at Erdoğan’s office said.

They said Erdoğan and Barzani also addressed necessary steps to shut down schools and institutions in Iraqi Kurdistan that are affiliated with Fethullah Gülen.

The meeting in the Turkish capital comes as NATO member Turkey faces multiple threats from Islamic State at home and across the border with neighboring Syria as well as from the outlawed PKK militants whose bases are in Qandil mountains in northern Iraq.

It also coincides with Iraqi and Kurdish forces gradually closing in on Mosul, Islamic State’s de facto capital, whose fall would mark the effective defeat of the Sunni hardline group in Iraq, according to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The United States is leading a coalition providing air and ground support to the Iraqi army in the war on Islamic State, whose forces swept through northern and western provinces inhabited mostly by Iraq’s Sunni minority two years ago.

Sources said Barzani expressed his support for Turkey’s elected leadership following a July 15 abortive putsch, in which rogue soldiers commandeered fighter jets, helicopters and tanks to overthrow Erdoğan and the government. “Taking necessary steps to terminate the operations of schools and institutions affiliated with the Gülenist terror organization was among the topics discussed by Erdoğan and Barzani,” a Turkish presidential source said.

Turkish president Erdogan and Kurdistan Region president Barzani meet in Ankara [photo by Anadolu Agency, 23/8/2016]
Turkish president Erdoğan and Kurdistan Region president Barzani meet in Ankara [photo by Anadolu Agency, 23/8/2016]

Source: Reuters/Anadolu/Syria & Iraq News