More US troops to Iraq —on whose side?
The Pentagon plans to send some 600 additional troops to Iraq to help launch a long-awaited offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS in the coming weeks. Added to the 560 new troops announced in July, this will bring total US troop strength in Iraq to over 5,000. Most of the new troops will be deployed to Qayyarah, an Iraqi air-base also known as Q-West, about 40 miles south of Mosul that has become the key staging base for the offensive. Some also will be deployed to the al-Asad base, which is further west in Anbar province. (LAT, Sept. 28)
But with Iraq's official armed forces in continued disarray, it is unclear if the US troops will be backing Shi'ite, Sunni or Kurdish forces. The official army has been working closely with Shi'ite militias widely accused in reprisals and atrocities against Sunnis. The militias maintain that those killed in such reprisals were ISIS sympathizers. (Macleans, Aug. 24)
The Pentagon has also been recruiting Sunni tribal militias in Iraq's north to assist in the taking of Sunni-majority Mosul. But Human Rights Watch charges that one such Sunni militia, Hashad al-Asha'ri, with recruiting children from displaced persons camps, in violation of international law. The rights group says it has documented the recruitment of at least seven children from the Debaga camp in August. (HRW, Aug. 30)
In order to win a modicum of unity between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) before the Mosul offensive, Washington brokered a deal to resolve the long-standing dispute over northern Iraq's oil resources. The dispute has resulted in two competing export pipelines—the central government's Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline and the regional government's own KRG pipeline. The dispute was deepened when the Kirkuk oil-fields fell into Kurdish hands when ISIS attempted to overrun the area in 2014. Under the new deal, proceeds from the disputed fields will be split 50-50 between the KRG and Baghdad's North Oil Company. But Baghdad's Oil Ministry continues to maintain that it intends to retake full control of the Kirkuk fields. (Reuters, Oct. 3; Rudaw, Sept. 10) The deal is obviously an uneasy one at the very best. An official from the North Oil Company was gunned down by a group of unidentified gunmen in Kirkuk on Oct. 3. (Rudaw, Oct. 3)
Complicating things further, Turkey continues to bomb PKK forces in northern Iraq—with the full complicity of the KRG, despite the fact that the PKK Kurdish militants and KRG's Peshmerga forces are ostensibly allied against ISIS. Turkish warplanes hit 12 PKK targets in the Metina areas of northern Iraq on Sept. 6. (AA, Sept. 6)
The ongoing terror campaign in Baghdad meanwhile continues to draw but perfunctory media coverage. September opened with two horrific blasts in the city, within days of each other—one in the Shi'ite district of Karada, killing at least 10, and one at a weapons depot in the Obeidi area used by Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a member of the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) network of Shi'ite militias, killing 15. (Iraqi News, Sept. 6; MEE, Sept. 3)