Iraqi Army on alert for attack on Kirkuk

Iraqi forces drive toward Kurdish peshmerga positions on Sunday on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2017
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Iraqi Army on alert for attack on Kirkuk

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi army and allied Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops were on alert to raid Kurdish peshmerga forces in the disputed city of Kirkuk early on Monday after talks failed and a 48-hour deadline passed for the Kurds to withdraw.
“We have reached a dead end. This means we are going to fight,” a senior federal military officer told Arab News.
“The Kurds insist on pushing us to use force as they keep rejecting all constitutional and legal solutions, and want to impose reality by force. OK, we are ready.”
Iraqi troops in southern and western Kirkuk are likely to raid the city and its suburbs in the early hours of Monday, and await orders from their commander-in-chief, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, military sources told Arab News.
“As part of the federal security forces, we are in full readiness to implement the orders issued by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces,” said Ahmed Assadi, spokesman for Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Unit). “We are soldiers; we will carry out the orders issued by him without discussion.”
Earlier, Baghdad said the presence in Kirkuk of fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the outlawed Turkish militant group, was “a serious escalation that cannot be tolerated” and “represents a declaration of war.” The Kurdish peshmerga ministry in Irbil denied that any PKK fighters were in Kirkuk.
The crisis erupted last month when Kurds in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum condemned by Baghdad as illegal and unconstitutional.
The federal government banned international flights into and out of the Kurdistan Region, halted financial transactions, ordered repairs to the crucial oil pipeline linking Kirkuk to Ceyhan in Turkey to bypass Kurdistan, and asked Turkey and Iran to stop all trade with the region and shut down land border crossings. Iran closed its border with Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday.
Kurdish forces have controlled Kirkuk and its lucrative oil fields since June 2014, when the Iraqi army fled in the face of an onslaught by Daesh militants on nearby cities and towns. On Friday, Baghdad gave the Kurds 48 hours to withdraw.
A meeting in Irbil on Sunday between the Iraqi President Fuad Masum, who is Kurdish, the Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barazani and leaders of the two biggest Kurdish political parties, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), failed to resolve the military standoff in Kirkuk.
Kurdish leaders who took part in the meeting said they rejected Baghdad’s demand that the referendum be annulled as a condition for talks. They insisted on unconditional negotiations under international supervision, and said military threats from Baghdad were unconstitutional.
Federal sources contacted by Arab News said high-level political and security meetings were taking place in Baghdad to discuss the next step.
Control of Kirkuk is vital for the Iraqi Kurds; after Basra, it has the second-largest oil fields in Iraq and is the backbone of the economy of the planned Kurdish state.
“We will not withdraw from one inch of this land for any reason and we are ready,” Kamal Kirkuki, a senior Kurdish leader and the commander of the Kurdish troops in western Kirkuk, told Arab News.
The federal government, he said was “not able to protect the people in the province and its facilities in the face of any future danger. We will not give up and will not allow them to return to our lands … this is out of the question.”


Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

Destroyed buildings following an explosion on Aug. 12 at an arms depot in a residential area in Syria’s Idlib province city of Sarmada. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2018
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Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

  • Russia has offered to repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 but Jordan does not want to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland
  • Jordan would benefit from reopening its border with Syria, but also carried risks of terrorists enter the country with fake IDs

AMMAN: Russia will help Jordan repatriate more than 150,000 Syrian refugees who fled fighting with the Assad regime in the country’s south, a Jordanian official said.

The official said Russia will repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 following the establishment of a center near the border with Syria to process their paperwork.

Jordan’s Minister for Media Affairs Jumana Ghneimat said the Russian proposal has been under discussion.

The Jordanian government refused to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland, she said.

“It is up to the refugee to decide whether he wants to return, although the presence of large numbers of Syrians has become a burden for Jordan.”

The refugees are mainly from the war-ravaged provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, the scene of fierce clashes between rebels and Assad government forces. 

Ghneimat said the establishment of a processing center nine kilometers from the border with Syria was part of Russia’s larger proposal for the return of the refugees.

Asked about the reopening of the Nassib border crossing, the minister said it was up to Syria to decide if the crossing would be operational.

The Assad regime had not asked Jordan to reopen the border, she said.

The Jordanian border crossing of Jaber is ready to operate and roads leading to the site are secure, Ghneimat said.

A technical team, including several ministry representatives, visited the crossing last week on a tour of inspection.

Jordan would benefit from reopening the border, which is an important avenue for trade with Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and several European countries, a transport ministry official said.

But reopening the border carried risks, including a fear that terrorists would enter the country with fake IDs, the official said.

The closure of the Jordan-Syrian border had severely affected Jordan’s transport sector, the head of the Syndicate of Jordanian Truck Owners said.

But he said that Jordanian trucks are ready to carry goods to Syria as soon as the border crossing is reopened. Before the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, about 7,000 trucks drove through the crossing each day.