The Kurdish Rudaw news service reported Wednesday on abusive and offensive behavior by the Iran-backed Shiite militia forces occupying Kirkuk, accused the U.S. military of turning a blind eye to the Iranian invasion, and, most disturbingly, accused Shiite fighters of beheading captured Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers.
Rudaw refers to a video of a Shiite militia member addressing the Kurds in belligerent terms. “We told you not to stand against the Hasd al-Shaabi,” he says, using the Arabic name for Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Force units.
“Shame on you. Now we have taken over your shelters and sat down in them. We reclaimed Kirkuk. Are you not ashamed? Where are the men?” he taunts. “Did you not say, ‘We are men coming from Erbil and Sulaimani to preserve Kirkuk, and Kirkuk is ours?’ Where are you?”
The most alarming allegations come at the end of the Kurdish media report:
An experienced Rudaw war correspondent, Hevidar Ahmed, reported from Kirkuk that some 10 Peshmerga were beheaded during confrontations between the Kurdish fighters and Hashd al-Shaabi late Sunday night.
Ahmed also said there were looting and burning of Kurdish homes in Tuz Khurmatu by the Hashd al-Shaabi. He reported that 150 Kurdish houses were looted and 15 burned.
A report filed on Tuesday indicated a Rudaw reporter named Hevidar Ahmed personally saw the headless corpses of Kurdish troops. Ahmed said that, contrary to the general tone of reports about the Iraqi advance into Kirkuk, a few Peshmerga units “put up a fierce defense” at first, falling back only after they realized they were greatly outnumbered and some of their fighters had been wounded or killed.
Ahmed reported seeing “the bodies of as many as 10 Peshmerga piled into the back of a pickup truck,” all of them beheaded. He stated they were beheaded by “a group of Hashd al-Shaabi trained after the Mosul operation last year.”
It should be noted that Rudaw appears to be the only source of these beheading reports as of Wednesday afternoon. Other references to the beheading of Peshmerga fighters all seem to lead back to Ahmed’s account. Furthermore, the authenticity of the Shiite militia fighter’s video posted by Rudaw does not appear to have been confirmed by other sources.
Writing at Foreign Policy on Wednesday, Emile Simpson worries that Kurds feeling betrayed and insulted by successive American administrations may turn to Moscow for protection, warning that “the inevitable result of having no political strategy is that others will fill the vacuum and determine the future.”
Simpson calls it “absurd” that “we now have an Iraqi force that includes Iranian-backed Shiite militia using U.S.-issued military equipment to drive the KRG’s Peshmerga from Kirkuk, in the same week that President Donald Trump emphasized the threat of Iranian proxies to regional stability.”
“Notice how Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft built up its position in Iraqi Kurdistan ahead of last month’s independence referendum,” she points out, inviting speculation that authoritarian and self-interested Russia might be able to find a means of squaring Kurdish aspirations with the fears of Turkey, Syria, and other regional powers moving into Moscow’s orbit.
The message from this Trump coda of Obama policy in the nation liberated from Saddam Hussein by one George Bush after another George Bush defeated Iraq in a war is that being an American ally in the Middle Eastern pressure cooker is objectively dangerous because America treats her adversaries better and more consistently than her friends. The Kurds probably should not hold their breath waiting for an Iran-style pallet of cash to be quietly delivered to Erbil.
Meanwhile, Americans who think Trump decertifying the Iran nuclear deal damages our diplomatic reputation should ask what the spectacle of Iranian proxies riding into battle against our crucial battlefield allies in American Humvees does to our precious “credibility.” How much of a credibility surcharge will there be if the allegations of Shiite fighters beheading captured Peshmerga troops are proven true?