The Trump administration’s opposition to the independence referendum approved by northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has prompted the Kurds to consider “revising” its mutually beneficial relationship with the United States, according to the region’s former president.
In an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), former KRG President Masoud Barzani, who remains an active Peshmerga fighter, suggested that America’s objections to Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence efforts may ultimately push the Kurds towards Russia.
“I can say we are going to have a very serious revising of the [KRG’s] relationship [with the U.S.],” declared the former president through an interpreter.
“The love, the hope, and the trust that the [Kurdish] people have in the U.S. has declined and is decreasing day after day,” he later affirmed.
Barzani, who recently stepped down from the KRG president post, blasted the United States for allegedly remaining “silent” on Baghdad resorting to Iraqi government-sponsored Shiite militias affiliated with Iran to coerce the KRG into abandoning its independence efforts.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently urged the Iranian-backed Shiite militias—known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, Arabic for Popular Protection Forces (PMF/PMU)—to “go home.”
U.S. forces have been fighting ISIS jihadists in Iraq alongside PMU forces, prompting a top American commander to praise the Shiite troops for their contribution to the fight against the Sunni terrorist group.
Speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, a senior U.S. official explained that the Trump administration position is that the Iran-allied Shiite fighters must “go home or … integrate into the Iraqi security forces.”
Late last year, the Baghdad government legalized the PMU as an independent component of the Iraqi military.
While the United States joined Baghdad, Iran, Turkey, and Syria in coming out against the September 25 independence referendum, Russia acknowledged the KRG’s “right” to hold the vote.
Despite Kurds overwhelmingly voting in favor of a sovereign Kurdistan state, the United States has doubled down on its opposition, urging the KRG to cancel the results.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in the wake of the referendum that the Kremlin is exercising a policy of “non-interference.”
Baghdad’s use of military force to resolve its differences with the autonomous KRG region has killed 60 Kurdish fighters and injured more than 150 others, Jabar Yawar, the secretary-general of the Peshmerga Ministry told reporters on Sunday.
Barzani told NPR the Kurds were shocked their Americans allies did “nothing” to stop attacks carried out by Shiite fighters.
PMU troops “were using the American weapons, Abram (ph) tanks and the others that the American government gave it to the Iraqi army to use them in the fight against ISIS [Islamic State]. But they used it against the people, and the Americans stayed silent,” he said. “That was not expected.”
Iraqi Kurds are predominantly Sunni.
Several news outlets have documented atrocities carried out by PMU fighters, including the torturing and killing Sunni civilians while fighting the Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS and ISIL.
Barzani noted that the Kurds have been close U.S. allies since 2003, noting that “Kurdish fighters, often unpaid and under-equipped, fought and died battling al-Qaeda and IS on behalf of the international community.”