Baghdad moves to take control of Kirkuk oil fields

Iraqis queue outside a petrol station in Kirkuk. Iraqi federal forces plan to restore the central government’s control of the city’s oil fields (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2017

Baghdad moves to take control of Kirkuk oil fields

BAGHDAD: Iraqi federal forces deployed near Kirkuk plan to restore the central government’s control of the northern city’s oil fields, federal officials and military sources told Arab News on Friday.
They have no intention of fighting Kurdish Peshmerga forces if they withdraw without resistance, the sources said. The military build-up on both sides in the ethnically mixed city and adjacent areas is at a peak since the federal government announced its intention to regain control of the region’s oil fields after Kurdistan held a controversial referendum on independence last month.
Kurdish authorities have sent thousands of additional troops to Kirkuk in order to “confront the threats” from Baghdad, as several units of the Iraqi Urgent Response Forces moved Friday morning toward the main road linking Kirkuk to Tikrit.
Units from the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Squad moved toward the town of Tazza, 10 km south of Kirkuk.
The 9th Armored Division of the Iraqi Army has entered Tazza and remains there “in preparation for any further orders,” military sources told Arab News.
Hadi Al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organization, one of the Shiite groups fighting Daesh, said in a statement on Friday: “Peshmerga troops must withdraw from the areas which were under the control of Iraqi security forces until June 9, 2014.”
At that time, as Daesh overran the provinces of Mosul and Salahuddin and drove Iraqi federal troops out, Kurdish forces took advantage of the resulting chaos and seized Kirkuk and its oil fields.
“We call on all components of the Kurdish people… to prepare fully to respond to those who want war and battle, and to support the Peshmerga forces by all means in order to save the cities of Kurdistan,” Nejervan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), said in a statement circulated on Friday. “We want to avoid our cities becoming like Mosul, Anbar and other Iraqi cities which have been afflicted by mass murder, devastation, and destruction.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has said he has no intention of fighting the Kurds, but “federal authority has to be imposed in Kirkuk and the disputed areas.”
A leader of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) told Arab News on condition of anonymity: “Orders were issued (Friday morning) to reposition and gain control of the nearby oil fields. We moved on the southern and southwestern areas of Kirkuk as we knew there would be no great resistance.”
The PMU leader said most troops taking part in the latest movements toward Kirkuk are from the regular Iraqi security forces, which are backed by the PMUs, specifically units dominated by Turkmen.
The Peshmerga has withdrawn from its positions in the town of Basheer and Tazza. Turkmen Commander Sheikh Wassfi Al-Assi told Arab News: “Our forces have advanced and taken the Peshmerga’s positions, and are now 10 km from Kirkuk. Peshmerga troops haven’t shown resistance, and not a single shot was fired by either side.”
PMU leader Kareem Al-Nuri told Arab News that his forces had received orders to redeploy to positions held by the national army in June 2014.
Kurdish and federal sources said Iraqi forces slowed their advance in response to a request by Hero Khan, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Khan’s team contacted Al-Abadi and asked for 48 hours “to arrange the situation in Kirkuk and avoid fighting,” a senior Shiite politician close to the prime minister told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
Khan’s team “promised to change the governor of Kirkuk, who is loyal to (KRG President Masoud) Barzani,” the Shiite politician said.
The PUK and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK) are the most prominent Kurdish political parties, and have been sharing power in Kurdistan and Baghdad on behalf of Iraqi Kurds.
Kirkuk and most of its suburbs are loyal to the PUK, and used to be run by its staff until the province’s Gov. Kareem Najm Al-Deen shifted his loyalty to the DPK.
“Fighting is likely to take place between the Peshmerga and our troops,” the Shiite politician said.
“Baghdad insists on regaining control of the oil fields, and this is non-negotiable. The PUK doesn’t control all the Kurdish troops deployed in Kirkuk, and those who withdrew this morning (Friday) belonged to the PUK, not the DPK.”

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 39 min 3 sec ago

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”