Kurds’ statehood dream dies as Baghdad retakes oil fields

Flames emerge from flare stacks at the oil fields in Dibis area on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq, on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. (REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)
Updated 18 October 2017
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Kurds’ statehood dream dies as Baghdad retakes oil fields

BAGHDAD: Iraqi troops and allied Shiite-dominated paramilitary forces took control on Tuesday of all Kirkuk’s oil fields, dealt a crushing blow to fragmented Kurdish forces and redrew the map of northern Iraq.
The lightning two-day attack by Baghdad ended Kurdish hopes of creating a viable independent state, after Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew without a fight.
“The operation was clean and there was no confrontation, thanks to the Peshmerga troops who took a decision to not confront the Iraqi forces,” said Hadi Al-Amiri, commander of the Badr Organization, one of the Shiite paramilitary groups that took part in the campaign. A Yazidi group allied to Baghdad also took control of the town of Sinjar.
Iraqi forces took down the Kurdish flags that had flown over the pumping stations of the Bai Hassan and Havana oil fields, and raised the national flag. Kurdish technicians halted production and fled before federal troops entered.
The oil fields accounted for more than 400,000 of the 650,000 barrels per day that the autonomous Kurdish region exported in defiance of Baghdad. Their loss deals a huge blow to its already dire finances and its dreams of economic self-sufficiency.
French geographer and Kurdistan specialist Cyril Roussel said the loss of the oil fields had slashed Kurdish finances by half. “It spells the end of Kurdistan’s economic self-sufficiency and of the dream of independence,” he said.
Kurds in northern Iraq, including Kirkuk, voted overwhelmingly for independence last month in a referendum condemned by Baghdad as illegal and unconstitutional. The federal government responded with a series of punitive measures, culminating in the military attack of the past two days.
The referendum “is finished and has become a thing of the past,” Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said on Tuesday. He called for a dialogue with Kurdish leaders “under the constitution.”
Kurdish university lecturer Salar Othman Ameen blamed the Kurdish authorities for calling the independence referendum prematurely. “We feel broken now. The referendum was a catastrophic decision. Our Kurdish leadership was supposed to think of the consequences before moving along with the independence vote. Now we have lost what we have achieved over three decades.”
Defeat for the Kurds has led to recriminations among the two main Kurdish political parties. The Kurdistan Democratic Party of regional government leader Masoud Barzani accused the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of “treason” for abandoning Kirkuk. The PUK denied blame and said it had tried to prevent the attack in talks with US and Iraqi officials.

The recapture of Kirkuk is also a second triumph for Al-Abadi, months after his forces recaptured Mosul from Daesh. “If elections were held tomorrow, I would vote with 10 fingers for Al-Abadi. He succeeded in keeping Iraq a single state,” said Adel Abdul Kareem, a Baghdad lawyer.
“When Kurdish leaders were threatening Baghdad, Al-Abadi was always smiling. We did not expect he was hiding a tornado behind this smile. He proved he was a smart leader, and with his wisdom he won against Barzani with a knockout in the second round,” said Abdul Kareem.


Citizen journalist among 11 civilians killed in northwest Syria

Updated 35 min 46 sec ago
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Citizen journalist among 11 civilians killed in northwest Syria

  • Anas Al-Dyab, a photographer and videographer in his early 20s, was a member of the White Helmets

KHAN SHEIKHUN: A young citizen journalist was among 11 civilians killed in air raids on Syria’s Idlib region Sunday, rescue workers and a monitor said, as he filmed the Russia-backed regime bombardment of the battered enclave.
Anas Al-Dyab, a photographer and videographer in his early 20s, was a member of the White Helmets who also contributed to AFP.
He was killed in Russian air strikes in the town of Khan Sheikhun, rescuers and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The White Helmets, rescue workers in rebel areas named after their distinctive hard hats, said the group “mourns the fall of a hero Anas Al-Dyab, a volunteer and media activist with the Syrian Civil Defense Center in Idlib,” in a Twitter post.
An AFP journalist saw White Helmet members gather to bid farewell to their friend, whose body was laid on a thick red blanket.
The Damascus regime and its Russian ally have stepped up their deadly bombardment of the jihadist-run region of Idlib since late April, despite a September buffer zone deal to protect the region of some three million people from a massive military assault.
Khan Sheikhun, a town in the south of Idlib, has been particularly hit, forcing thousands to flee their homes there, according to the United Nations.
But Dyab “chose to remain with his fellow volunteers in Khan Sheikhun till today,” the White Helmets said.
Raed Al-Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, said Dyab was killed while “trying to show the world what’s going on in Syria.”
“It’s a great loss,” he said.
Dyab, who was single, leaves behind his parents and three brothers, one of whom is held by the Damascus regime, Saleh said.
The Observatory said Dyab was hiding in the cellar of a three-story building with two members of the Jaish Al-Ezza rebel group when the strike happened.
Also on Sunday, regime air strikes killed 10 other civilians including three children in other parts of the bastion, said the Britain-based monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria for its information.
Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham in January took full administrative control of the Idlib region, although other jihadists and rebels are also present.
The Idlib region is supposed to be protected by a September 2018 deal between Russia and rebel backer Turkey, but a buffer zone planned under that accord was never fully implemented.
The White Helmets, who are backed by the West, were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.
But Moscow and Damascus accuse the group of backing rebels and jihadists.
Syria’s war has killed a total of more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.