Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi threatened in an op-ed published by the New York Times (NYT) this week that he is willing to use military force to keep his country’s autonomous Kurdistan region from breaking away from Baghdad.
Abadi wrote that as prime minister of Iraq, it is his constitutional duty “to protect all of the Iraqi people and to keep our country united.”
Referring to what he described as the Iraqi government’s mandate to reinforce and restore Shiite-led Baghdad’s “federal authority over national borders,” he noted:
The redeployment this week of Iraqi forces to parts of [oil-rich] Kirkuk and other areas in northern Iraq is consistent with this approach. These are federal forces—army, counterterrorism, police and rapid deployment units—and their members come from Iraq’s many ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds. This deployment was not an attack on Kurdish citizens or on the city of Kirkuk; it was an Iraqi federal operation aimed at restoring federal authority to areas that were under government control until 2014.
I have instructed these forces to not provoke skirmishes or conflict. But they have a duty to protect citizens and defend themselves if they come under fire.
With the help of Shiite paramilitary groups under the Iran-backed umbrella organization known as the Popular Mobilization Forces/Units (PMF/PMU) or al-Hashd al-Shaabi, the Iraqi military has pushed the KRG out of various disputed areas claimed by Baghdad and Erbil, including Kirkuk, Shingal, Gwer, Makhmour, Khanaqin, and Snune, reported Rudaw.
In November 2016, Baghdad legalized the PMF fighters as a component of the Iraqi military led by PM Abadi.
Although the prime minister has reportedly deployed members of the PMF to assist the Iraqi military in restoring Baghdad’s federal authority, Abadi made no mention of the Shiite militias, which maintain a close relationship with Iran.
PM Abadi claimed, “For now, we urge regional powers and other outsiders not to interfere in our affairs. Iraq must be able to demonstrate its coming of age by using democratic structures to solve internal disputes.”
However, the KRG claims Iran is indeed helping Baghdad gain control of disputed territory in northern Iraq, an accusation that Tehran denies.
Recently, Al-Monitor did report that Iran dislikes Abadi because it believes the Shiite prime minister is undermining its influence in Iraq.
At the very least, the Iran-backed PMF troops have assisted the Iraqi military in coercing the Kurds out of disputed areas in northern Iraq that the Kurdish Peshmerga troops liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) when the terrorist group swept through the country in 2014.
In the editorial, Abadi stressed that Iraqi Kurds overwhelming voting “yes” to independence on September 25 is a move that “emboldens the remnants of” ISIS in Iraq.
His position echoes the objections to Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence efforts voiced by neighboring Iran and Turkey, which along with Baghdad have threatened a coordinated military response if the Kurds refuse to cancel the outcome of the vote.
“No effort for autonomy or self-rule can succeed if it is approached illegally. Unilateral actions violating the law threaten the stability of our entire country, and therefore our neighbors, as well,” wrote Abadi.
Although the Iraqi military fled by the thousands when the ISIS jihadists swept across northern Iraq in 2014, leaving the Kurds to defend the area, Abadi appeared to take all the credit for the terrorist group’s imminent fall in his country.
“Iraq has steadily dealt defeats to the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, a vicious enemy that has threatened our entire region and killed innocent people across the world,” he opined. “Now, having liberated cities including Mosul, Tal Afar, and Hawija, Iraq is poised to drive out Daesh completely.”
Nevertheless, referring to the Kurds he also wrote, “I had hoped that just as we united to defeat our enemy, we would unite to recover and rebuild.”