Iran launches war games near Iraqi Kurdistan border, Turkey hits militant positions

Representational Image. Members of Iranian armed forces march during a parade in Tehran, Iran, September 22, 2017. (President.ir/Handout via REUTERS)
Updated 24 September 2017
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Iran launches war games near Iraqi Kurdistan border, Turkey hits militant positions

DUBAI/ISTANBUL: Iranian forces have launched war games in an area near the border with Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Iran’s state media reported on Sunday, a day before a Kurdish independence referendum in the region.
Turkey also said on Sunday its aircraft launched airstrikes against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq’s Gara region on Saturday after spotting militants preparing to attack Turkish military outposts on the border.
Iraq’s powerful neighbors, Iran and Turkey, strongly oppose the Kurdish vote as they fear could fuel separatism among their own Kurds. Iran also supports Shiite groups who have been ruling or holding key security and government positions in Iraq since the 2003 U.S-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein.
The Kurdistan Regional Government has resisted calls by the United Nations, the United States and Britain to delay the referendum who fear it could further destabilize the region.
Iranian State broadcaster IRIB said military drills, part of annual events held in Iran to mark the beginning of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, are centered in the Oshnavieh border region. The war games will include artillery, armored and airborne units, it said.
Clashes with Iranian Kurdish militant groups based in Iraq are fairly common in the border area.
On Saturday, Turkish warplanes destroyed gun positions, caves and shelters used by PKK militants, a military statement in Ankara said. Turkey’s air force frequently carries out such air strikes against the PKK in northern Iraq, where its commanders are based.
Turkey’s parliament voted on Saturday to extend by a year a mandate authorizing the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq and Syria.
The PKK launched an insurgency in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The US embassy in Iraq cautioned its citizens that there may be unrest during a referendum, especially in territories disputed between the KRG and the central government like the multi-ethnic oil-rich region of Kirkuk.
Three Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were killed and five wounded on Saturday when an explosive device blew up near their vehicle south Kirkuk, security sources said.
The explosion happened in Daquq, a region bordering Daesh-held areas, the sources said.
Daesh’s “caliphate” effectively collapsed in July, when a US-backed Iraqi offensive, in which the Peshmerga took part, captured their stronghold Mosul, in northern Iraq.
The group continues to control a pocket west of Kirkuk and a stretch alongside the Syrian border and inside Syria.


Sadr’s call for delay in Iraqi government formation deemed impractical

Protesters hand over job requests to government employees in Basra. (Reuters)
Updated 10 min 31 sec ago
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Sadr’s call for delay in Iraqi government formation deemed impractical

  • Mass protests have been sweeping the southern provinces since July 8 as anger grows over a serious lack of basic services, such as electricity and drinking water, and the high rates of unemployment and poverty
  • At least 12 protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded, most of them policemen

BAGHDAD: Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, whose political bloc won Iraq’s election on May 12, on Thursday called on all politicians to delay efforts to form a new government until the demands of protesters seeking better services in the south of the country are met.

“The winning political parties in the election have to suspend all political dialogues for forming coalitions until they meet protesters’ rightful demands,” he posted on Twitter. It was his first public comment on the unrest sweeping the south.

However, analysts and even Sadr’s Shiite partners said that suspending the talks is “impractical” and will not help to address the demands of protesters.

“We must expedite the formation of a service government that operates according to clear programs and time limits if we want to meet the demands of the demonstrators,” said a prominent Shiite leader, and one of Sadr’s allies, who asked to remain anonymous.

“There are constitutional deadlines that we must abide by. Parliament must meet immediately after the ratification of the election results to choose the president and complete the steps to form a government.

“It is illogical to wait until the demands of protesters are met because most of these demands need months or years to turn into reality.”

Sadr’s call is seen by many analysts and politicians as an attempt to capitalize on the wave of protests, especially as protesters in Basra and several other provinces already rejected offers made by him to organize mass demonstrations led by his followers.

“There is no contradiction between meeting the demands of the demonstrators and continuing negotiations to form a government,” said Ahmed Jallil, an Iraqi analyst.

“Sadr just feels that he is not controlling the scene this time, after his previous offers were rejected, and his rivals have come close to forming a coalition away from him. So the best way to regain control is by riding the wave of the demonstrations.”

Mass protests have been sweeping the southern provinces since July 8 as anger grows over a serious lack of basic services, such as electricity and drinking water, and the high rates of unemployment and poverty. 

The demonstrations turned violent when protesters stormed Najaf airport and the headquarters of several oil companies in the oil-hub city of Basra, and set fires in many governmental and partisan buildings.

At least 12 protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded, most of them policemen, according to the Iraqi Commission of Human Rights.

The demonstrations are the latest results of the unrest that has plagued the country since the announcement in May of the preliminary results of the parliamentary national elections.

Most Iraqi political leaders have backed the protesters in their “legal” demands.