Iraqi Kurds: We Are ‘Sure to Get Hit by the Fire’ amid U.S.-Iran Tensions

Iraqi Kurdish protesters wave flags of their autonomous Kurdistan region during a demonstration to claim for its independence on July 3, 2014 outside the Kurdistan parliament building in Arbil, in northern Iraq. The Kurdish leader, Massud Barzani asked its parliament to start organizing a referendum on independence. AFP PHOTO / …
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Officials in Iraqi Kurdistan said on Wednesday they were not surprised to find themselves caught in the crossfire as Iran targeted bases in Iraq for an ultimately ineffective missile attack to avenge the death of terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani.

“Unfortunately, Iraq has become the center of the rivalries. With the Kurdistan Region being part of Iraq, we are sure to get hit by the fire – despite it being true that the Kurdistan Region is not involved with the existing rivalry, nor will it be involved,” Lt. Gen. Jabbar Yawar of the Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurdistan’s fighting force, remarked to Kurdish news service Rudaw.

“This is a dangerous development because of the usage of ballistic missiles,” Yawar said a few hours after two of Iran’s missiles came down in the Kurdistan region, one of them only a few miles from the international airport in Erbil.

“We hope it doesn’t evolve beyond this,” he said. “According to the existing information, there has been no damage, thankfully. However, even if there aren’t human casualties, it will have other impacts.”

“Iran targets a military base on which it has information and whose rockets it can reach, despite the military bases located in the Kurdistan Region not housing fighting forces,” he complained, referring to the airbase near Erbil targeted by Iran. The base is close to the Iranian border, putting it within range of much of Iran’s missile inventory, and was extensively used by coalition forces to work with the Peshmerga against the Islamic State.

Yawar noted that due to their importance in defeating ISIS, bases in Kurdistan are authorized and supported by the central Iraqi government.

The president, prime minister, and parliamentary speaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) issued a joint statement on Wednesday urging “de-escalation, dialogue, and diplomatic means to resolve the tensions” between the U.S. and Iran. The statement asked “all parties to keep the Kurdistan Region out of the conflicts.”

Some Iraqi Kurdish leaders reportedly see the situation as an opportunity to secure greater independence and improved protection for the KRG by agreeing to host any U.S. troops that Baghdad might ask to withdraw from the rest of Iraq. 

In this scenario, the KRG would expect the United States to help defend their territory from attacks like the one launched by Iran’s Shiite militia proxies after the Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in 2017. Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian general liquidated in a U.S. airstrike last week, was a key player in crushing Kurdish independence.

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