Iraq Seizes Kurdish Territory After Independence Referendum

Iraqi forces who clashed with Kurdish fighters near the disputed city of Kirkuk—seizing a key military base and other territory in a major operation sparked by a controversial independence referendum.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

Iraq Seizes Kurdish Territory After Independence Referendum

The United States is silent—but Iran is ready to fill the void.

In response to the controversial Kurdish independence referendum, Iraq staged a lightning military advance into Kurdish territory last week. Beginning on October 16, Iraqi troops overran the area and seized huge chunks of Kurdish-held territory. By October 18, Iraqi government forces were in complete control of the Kurds’ southern flank. They now control Kirkuk (a major Kurdish oil city), as well as its airport, its military base, and the Kurdish region’s main source of revenue—the Kirkuk oil fields. This is a major blow to the Kurdish cause.

The Kurdish Peshmerga retreated without much bloodshed, despite Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani’s claims that his soldiers would fight to the death to defend their right to independence.

The city of Kirkuk lies within the Kirkuk region of Iraq, an area claimed by both the Kurds and the Iraqi government. Kirkuk produces approximately 300,000 barrels of oil a day, providing about half of the Kurdish government’s revenue. These oilfields are the lifeblood of the Kurds.

However, the oil fields are also vital for Iraq. The Kurdish region produces approximately a 10th of the Iraq’s total oil. Oil accounts for 60 percent of Iraq’s gross domestic product, as well as 99 percent of its exports and 90 percent of its government revenue. Iraq quite literally cannot afford to lose these vital oil fields. Even a brief interruption in the Kirkuk oil supply on Tuesday drove up international oil prices by roughly 1 percent. The Kurd’s independence referendum put the safety of Iraq’s oil business in jeopardy, and the government is striking back.

Kurds comprise around 20 percent of Iraq’s total population, and are concentrated mostly in the northeastern region of the country. This region contains one of Iraq’s major oil pipelines to Turkey. In March this year, Kurdish forces temporarily shut down the flow of oil through this pipeline. Their aim was to show that they were capable of damaging Iraq’s economy. Although Iraqi troops reacted quickly to force the pipeline back into action, the move showed Iraq what could happen if the Kurds do gain independence.

Listen to Middle East Correspondent Brent Nagtegaal discuss the significance of the loss of Kirkuk

This is part of the reason why Iraq opposes the independence movement so vehemently. Losing the land that would compose Kurdistan would be a major blow to the Middle Eastern oil supplier. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement issued Monday that because of the referendum, military takeover of Kirkuk was necessary to “protect the unity of the country, which was in danger of partition.” He fears what would happen if his country were divided—and he fears even more what would happen to its economy were it to lose a 10th of its national revenue overnight.

One thing is certain: The United States will not be the one to solve the conflict. As the Economist wrote on October 21 (emphasis added throughout):

It is worrying enough that two American allies—the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi forces—should turn their guns on each other. It is even more worrying that President Donald Trump has done little to stop them, declaring that: “We’re not taking sides.” Unless America fills the vacuum left by the demise of [the Islamic State], Iran will do so instead.

The Trumpet has been warning of Iran’s rise to power since the early 1990s. Iran is the true leader of radical Islam, and it is merely lying in wait to take leadership of the Middle East. The Islamic State threat has simply proved to be a convenient distraction for the last several years. With the spotlight off Iran, the rogue regime has been able to continue its dirty work under the radar.

The United States helped dismantle the Islamic State through air strikes and other means, but it is taking a hands-off approach to the Kurdish crisis. The Economist wrote, “Right now, having done much to crush the jihadists in Iraq and Syria, America is letting Iran reshape the Arab world to its liking.”

Another Economist piece showed that Iran wasn’t just a bystander this week. A high-profile Iranian general actually assisted Iraq in its takeover of Kirkuk:

Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, shuttled between Sulaymaniyah [a city in Iraqi Kurdistan] and Baghdad mediating Kurdish capitulation and advising Iraqi commanders on their assault. Remarkably, given that it arms and trains both Iraq’s army and Kurdish forces, America kept silent. For all his grandiose promises to roll back Iran, Donald Trump looked like a bystander. In Kirkuk, Iran called the shots.

Ali Khedery, senior adviser on Iraq to the U.S. Central Command from 2003 to 2010, told nbc that the seizure of Kirkuk was “a catastrophic defeat for the United States and a fantastic victory for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.” However, Iran denies any involvement. A top adviser to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement on October 17 that “Iran plays no role in the Kirkuk operation.”

Iran assisted in Iraq’s takeover of Kurdish territory, and the U.S. did nothing to stop it. Iraq is our ally, but so are the Kurds. As Khedery said, “We have undermined our secular moderate, Western-leaning Kurdish allies in the Middle East. Our foes will be emboldened, our allies shaken.”

There are a lot of uncertainties in this situation. But whether Kurdish independence becomes reality or not, the Kurdish conflict is helping fulfill Bible prophecy. The crisis is further destabilizing the already volatile Middle East and it is giving Iran an opportunity to strengthen its influence in Iraq. Trumpet writer Anthony Chibarirwe recently wrote about this trend. In his article Chibarirwe refers to Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s booklet, The King of the South, which provides a detailed explanation of the end-time Biblical prophecies relating to the Middle East.

[Gerald Flurry] discusses Bible prophecies that show Iran’s domination of the “south”—the Middle East. He explained how the Bible indicates that Iraq would fall to Iran, as it assuredly already has. Bible prophecy indicates that Iran will do all it can to protect its interests. Considering that most of the major powers of the world oppose Kurdish independence, Iran already has an advantage. Iran has the brutishness, the militant proxies and the financial resources to fight to the bitter end for a Persian Empire. Kurdish independence or not, Iran will not lose its prophesied control of the bulk of Iraq. But the chaos Iran will create in the process is prophetically significant.

To understand more about the imminent future of the Middle East and what will come after the Kurdish crisis, read Gerald Flurry’s booklet The King of the South.