The Kurdish Globe
By Salih Waladbagi--Erbil
Thousands of Iraqi troops tried to cross the disputed areas near Syrian border but the attempt was met with a stiff resistance by Peshmerga forces. Kurdish commentators say this is an attempt by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to assist the Syrian regime and prevent a Kurdish region from being established in Syria.
110,000 Iraqi soldiers in state of alert
The Kurdistan Ministry of Peshmerga says that the Iraqi government has deployed some 110,000 soldiers adjacent to the borders with Kurdistan from Zakho, close to Turkey and Syria, to Khanaqin, close to the border with Iran. The ministry also stated that the Peshmerga is also in state of alert.
According to a report from the ministry, the numbers of the Iraqi troops who are in state of alert in line with Kurdish areas are more than the combined numbers of Iraqi troops in charge of protecting the Iraqi borders with neighbouring countries.
Jafar Barzinji, Minister of Peshmerga, said Iraq has deployed a large number of forces near Rabia, northwest of Nineveh province, with the forces comprising of an artillery unit as backup.
The minister said some 3,000 Peshmerga have deployed in the areas where Iraqi troops are trenched.
Rabia is 13 km from the front line of the Peshmerga forces in Kairo village. The Iraqi forces are currently just 1 km away from the Peshmerga.
The Ministry of Peshmerga warned they "will respond with force if Iraqi troops advance even one step toward Kurdish areas."
Iraqi forces claim that the Peshmerga does not have the right to halt Iraqi troops because they are commissioned with protecting the borders of all the country.
Baghdad dispatches more troops
Following the tensions, Iraqi army officials decided to move a military battalion base from Nasiriya, in middle of the country, to Rabia, in the northwest.
According to information revealed by Peshmerga forces, Ali Gheidan, an Iraqi commander, visited the front line of the Iraqi forces in Kairo village. Then he decided to move the battalion from Nasiriya to Rabia.
Gheidan was accompanied by commanders of the military of Iraq and other high ranking military officials. On the other side, Kurdistan's Minister of Peshmerga visited also visited the Peshmerga front lines.
However, people from the surrounding villages left their houses to move to the cities of Zakho and Duhok under the control Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Attempts to assist Syria
Aso Qassim, a Kurdish lawmaker in the Kurdistan Parliament, claimed that Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki wants to assist the Syrian regime and is using all his power to implement his plans.
Qassim described the new dispatch of Iraqi troops to control Rabia border, which has been controlled by Kurdish forces since fall of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, as "part of an outline prepared by the PM in advance".
He added that the recent dispute has resulted in an even greater political gap between Erbil and Baghdad. He said, "Maliki wants to restrict the power of Kurdistan by reducing budget and dispatching troops to disputed areas in Rabia."
However, some observers say this is a regional game that has begun in Iraq and Maliki is trying to manage the conflict according to the interests of Iran and Syria.
Qassim further stated that the Iraqi government cannot send troops to disputed areas without taking permission from KRG, adding "these kinds of actions are not acceptable."
According to political observers, the dispatch of troops to disputed areas is not in line with the Iraqi constitution and is a clear "violation" of the constitution.
In addition, he remarked that the fall of Bashar Assad's regime is just a matter of time, and Maliki, in this critical moment, wants to show his support for Assad by dispatching troops to the Syrian border and even showing his support for other regional powers.
He also said this is a clear message to the KRG and Syrian opposition parties who are working to oust the regime.
Political observers believe that Baghdad wants to control the only strategic gate between Kurdistan and Syria and send logistical and military facilities to Assad's regime.
Iraq monitors Kurdish borders with warplanes
In the aftermath of the new fallout between Turkey and Iraq over the past several months, Iraqi warplanes patrolled the borders with Turkey in order to prevent Turkish aircrafts from crossing the country's borders.
A high ranking Peshmerga official told Kurdish news agencies that they saw military reconnaissance aircraft over the skies of the Region, but they did not shoot at it because they didn't have orders to shoot.
General Mohammed Rostam, a Kurdish military official, remarked that there was no confrontation between Iraqi and Kurdish forces. He added that they dug ground and entrenched against Iraqi troops.
Furthermore, he said Peshmerga forces saw an aircraft coming to inspect the area, but they could not identify whether it was an Iraqi or American aircraft.
"In order to keep the situation stable, we did not shoot the aircraft. We will see more aircrafts over the skies of the area if the situation remains unsolved."
According to Rostam, Iraqi troops totally closed the road to the citizens of the surrounding villages, however, the Peshmerga allowed the people to continue with their ordinary activities.
A Kurdish minister in the Iraqi cabinet who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Kurdish media said, "Due to new conflicts between Baghdad and Ankara, Maliki decided not to permit Turkish aircrafts to cross Iraq through the Kurdistan borders. The Iraqi warplanes will land in Kirkuk, the majority Kurdish oil-rich city, later."
Maliki stated in a speech to a graduation ceremony of Academia of Police in Baghdad that it will not be acceptable any longer for Turkey to cross Iraq's air space.
Hassan Jihad, a member of security and defending committee of Iraq's parliament, said Iraq has the right to monitor the borders but they should do this in coordination with the KRG.
However, Kurdistan presidency warned the central government that Iraq warplanes do not have the rights to monitor Kurdish areas without obtaining permission of the KRG. Baghdad rejected the warning.
Signs of resolving the conflict
In a meeting between Maliki and other Iraqi parliamentary factions, members of parliament asked Maliki to resolve conflicts with the KRG through peaceful dialogue. Some say the PM agreed to meet with the Kurdistan President, Massoud Barzani, in the near future.
US officials also are in direct contact with both Iraqi and Kurdish high officials in attempts to mediate between the two sides.
Political observers say that the conflict might be resolved by withdrawing Iraqi troops from disputed areas.
Discussions between Baghdad and Erbil have turned to activating a joint committee. It will coordinate the movement of the Peshmerga and Iraqi army in disputed areas.
A Kurdish lawmaker in Iraqi parliament said that perhaps the problem will be settled in the coming days.
Kurdistan Religious Scholars condemn Iraqi PM
In an announcement, Kurdistan Religious Scholars Union expressed their support for Peshmerga forces.
The announcement read that they are against any attempt to deteriorate the situation, however, protecting the land of the region and its people is a mission of every single individual of Kurdistan.
In addition, the union asked the KRG to take serious care of Peshmerga lives and improve their conditions.
The announcement further sated, "unfortunately, after many years of sacrifice and struggle of the Kurdish people against dictatorships in Iraq, and as the Kurdish people hoped to experience freedom for the first time, once again we see Iraq deploy its troops in Kurdish areas and remind us of the same fear of aggression and tyranny and massacre against our people."
"Kurdistan Religious Scholars Union persists on brotherhood, coexistence and peaceful life between all Iraqi components and is against any attempt to make trouble in every corner of the world. But defending the land of Kurdistan and its people, which many people scarified their lives for, is the duty of every Kurdish individual."
"Thus we the Kurdistan Religious Scholars Union condemn the recent efforts of the Iraqi PM to send troop to disputed areas and fully express our support to the Peshmerga forces."
And the union described any support for Peshmerga forces as a "national, religious and humanity" duty.