Despite the setting up of “de-escalation zones”, the destruction caused by air strikes has dominated this month’s military news in Syria. The Syrian Human Rights Centre (SHRC) noted on 2 October over 3,000 victims in a month’s time, 1,000 of whom were civilians, including 200 children and 150 women, mainly from Syrian and Russian air strikes. However the principal news is the announcement by the SDF of their taking Raqqa, ISIS’s “capital” in Syria. Here too, the air strikes, this time carried out by the US-led coalition, left the city completely destroyed.
On the 29th September the SDF had announced they had taken the “Califate’s” administrative centre, then on 1st October that they controlled 90% of the town, tightening their stranglehold on the enemy’s last enclave: the hospital, the stadium and a few blocks of flats. Here they were faced with the jihadists’ most dogged resistance, using their common tactics: moving around through tunnels long prepared in advance, snipers, suicide attacks and using civilians as human shields (the number of civilians trapped there being estimated by UNO at 8,000). On the 8th the SDF indicated they were about to launch the final offensive. On the 11th they announced discussions to allow the evacuation of the last 4,000 remaining civilians being held by 300 to 400 jihadists. On the 14th the Kurdish YPG militia announced that the town could be liberated “today or tomorrow”, as the jihadists seemed increasingly to prefer to surrender than to fight to the death. To limit the already high casualties, negotiations were started to secure the surrender and evacuation of the jihadists. The Western members of the coalition were worried at the return to their country of origin could carry the danger of fresh attacks… On the 15th, after a communiqué announcing an agreement to “evacuate the civilians remaining in the town and ensure that 275 local mercenaries (jihadists) and their families surrender” an SDF spokesman, Cîhan Şêx Ehmed, announced that the battle was “in its final phase”. According to a senior SDF leader, the Syrian and foreign jihadists leaving the town would go to areas held by ISIS in Deir Ezzor Province.
On the 17th, the SDF announced that the town was totally regained, and Rojda Felat, one of the officers of the “Wrath of the Euphrates” operation celebrated the victory by raising the flag of the YPJ women fighters in the very place where ISIS had carried out its executions, al-Naïm Square. On the 19th it was announced that the city’s administration had been handed over to a Civic Council of local public figures and tribal chiefs and to a 3000-man strong police force, and Raqqa’s joining “a federal and decentralised” Syria.
Despite its series of reversals, ISIS still remains dangerous: on the 12th the Kurdish Red Crescent announced that a triple suicide attack with car bombs took place at Abu Fas, further East, causing at least 50 deaths. The Jihadists still hold half of Deir Ezzor Province, and in particular the two strategic towns of Mayadine and Boukamal in the Euphrates valley leading to the Iraqi border. There has been fighting for Mayadine all through the month: the SHRC announced on the 6th that the Syrian government’s forces had entered it but ISIS was able to regain control before “collapsing” on the 14th, according to military sources, against the Syrian army — and Russian air strikes.
In Deir Ezzor Province ISIS is confronting two simultaneous attacks, by the Syrian Army and by the SDF. These two forces are in an ambiguous face-to-face situation, alternating between challenging one another and unofficial co-ordination — relations doubtless similar to those of their respective “patrons” — Russia and Iran in the regime’s case and the USA for the SDF. On the government side, beyond the Army and the Republican Guard, are also taking part in the assault on the provincial capital the Lebanese Hezbollah and various tribal militia and Shaitat fighters. On the SDF side there is also the Deir Ezzor Military Council, consisting mainly of Arabs of that city who is leading the attack. The two camps are clearly seeking to prepare for the post-ISIS situation holding the best strategic cards possible: for the regime, over and above the symbolic victory that the complete regaining of Deir Ezzor would be, the province’s oil is also an important objective and it must move fast to prevent the SDF from repeating the Raqqa operation and so extend their area of influence in the East. For the SDF the aim is no longer the province’s capital, which is likely to be taken by the regime, but securing the South of the adjoining province, Hassakeh — and also, naturally, the oil, of paramount economic importance for the North Syrian Federation. Finally the SDF is seeking to avoid being hemmed in by advancing either East or West.
ISIS’s days are clearly numbered, at any rate in terms of controlling territory. The regime has long avoided attacking the jihadists, who played the part of bogeyman to the international community. However, once the opposition brought to its knees with Russian help, Damascus now aims at regaining the whole of “its territories”. During recent months Damascus has concentrated on Deir Ezzor and its oil, leaving Raqqa in the hands of the coalition and the SDF, which now controls more than a quarter of the country, in which they gave set up an autonomous region. Once ISIS eliminated, the North Syrian Federation, with a strong likelihood of a rapid withdrawal of US support, would find itself alone faced with Damascus – plus still a permanent threat from Turkey to the North. Rather than enter in direct confrontation with a regime that enjoys Russian support, its leaders might try to compromise. To do this the Russians seem easier to approach than Damascus directly, especially as the latter has little room for manoeuvre face to those who had saved it. In this respect it is interesting to note that Syrian Army reports have noted, on the 19th, an agreement negotiated with the SDF... by Russia, whereby Russian troops were able to enter the Koneko gas fields, taken from ISIS at the end of September. In the 22nd the SDF announced on their web site that they had regained from ISIS the Al-Omar oil fields in Deir Ezzor Province, thus forestalling the regime that was also trying to take them from Mayadine, 10 km to the West. Al-Omar is one of Syria’s largest oil fields. According to the SHRC the SDF have also taken during the night the Al-Sayjane field, just North of Al-Omar.
However the SDF are not the only ones to have contacts with Russia. Turkey is also present on this field. Already confronted with the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, the Turkish president does not, at any price, want the North Syrian Federation to become permanent. If the two Kurdish regions became closer, Ankara’s control of its own Kurds could become impossible… Erdogan’s “anti-Kurdish obsession” is so strong that as soon as the PYD made some territorial gains he distanced himself from the Syrian opposition and started discussions with the Russians and Iranians. The SDF could rightly worry about a repetition of “the Russo-Turkish deal” of last August, when Turkey seems to have obtained its entry into Syria in exchange for “dropping” its support of the rebels in Aleppo, especially as Erdoğan has never missed an opportunity for months past of repeating Afrîn must be taken from the “terrorists”.
Ostensibly, Turkey is aiming at Idlib, South of Afrîn. This is the last Northwestern Syrian province still in rebel hands, and which makes up one of the 4 “de-escalation zones” negotiated between Russians, Turks and Iranians last May. Turkish tanks and members of its special forces are concentrated near Reyhanlı, South of the Turkish province of Hatay and barely 25 km Southwest of Afrîn, thus potentially able to attack from the rear this most Western of Rojava’s “Cantons”. The aim of this operation, which should be started by elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) (the same, according to Hürriye as those who had accompanied the Turkish troops to Jerablous last August) is to drive out of the Province the Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist coalition of dominated by elements of Jabhat al-Nosra, formerly the Syrian al-Qaida. However, the situation is ambiguous to say the least. If on the 8th, while the Turkish troops were dismantling the frontier wall on preparation for their advance into Syrian territory, there were some exchanges of mortar fire with this organisation, and on the 10th elements of the pro-Turkish FSA again clashed with them, the Iraqi Kurdish television channel Rûdaw reported on the 9th the testimony of several witnesses that the Turkish troops had been escorted by members of Tahrir al-Sham to begin surveying operations barely a few km South of Afrîn in the Darat el-Ezzah region. They had then been the target of mortar fire from areas held by the YPG. On the same day President Erdoğan again declared that Turkey would be “obliged to destroy” any “terrorist corridor” in the North of Syria.
While this Turkish operation was announced as carried with Russian agreement, on the 14th the Syrian Foreign Minister published a communiqué demanding the “immediate withdrawal and without prior conditions” of the Turkish troops, describing their “incursion” as a “flagrant aggression” “unconnected with any agreements between the principal countries taking part with the Astana discussions but in breach of these agreements”. Corroborating the news broadcast by Rûdaw, the communiqué made the point that the Turkish incursion was made accompanied by members of the Al-Nosra Front, thus testifying to the “close relations between Turkey and the terrorists groups” (Xinhua). From their side, Rezan Gilo, a senior official responsible for the Rojava self-defence units declared on Kurdistan 24 that “the Turkish incursion [was] aimed at foiling the Kurdish project in North Syria and at besieging Afrîn” and that Turkey was“not interested in fighting terrorist organisations”. These facts show that the Turkish incursion is not an anti-jihadist operation except as a bit of “eye wash” but rather to prevent the extension to the Mediterranean of the “PYD corridor” by setting up elements favourable to Turkey at Idlib — an objective curiously symmetrical to that of the regime in Deir Ezzor.
On the 16th 2,000 extra men set themselves up between the Kurds and the Syrian opposition to prepare for a new development, setting up observation posts and defence works — particularly on Mount Cheikh Barakat, just facing Afrîn, but also at Daret Izza, 30 km South and on Mount Seman, which, together with Az, 20 km to the Northeast could serve as a base for an attack.
Such an operation would require Russian agreement. For the moment the latter is continuing to develop its contacts with the authorities of the “North Syrian Federation”: on the 31st, while the seventh session was beginning at Astana, which should finalise the “de-escalation zones” (the Kurds being still excluded by the Turkish veto) the Russians invited the latter to a “Congress of of Syrian Peoples”, recently announced by Vladimir Putin. This is due to bring together the different Syrian ethnic groups at Sochi mid-November. The PYD representative in Russia, Abd Salam Ali, declared that a plan for the federalisation of Syria could be discussed there, while discussions on the future Federal Region are due to take place at the same time in Syria … on the Russian military base of Khmeimim.
The judicial proceedings that are taking place this month in Turkey are aimed higgledy-piggledy at civilians and military officers accused of taking part in the attempted coup d’état of 15th July 2015: journalists, Human Rights defenders, elected representatives and simple members of the “pro-Kurdish” opposition party, the HDP — to sum up all and sundry — real coup suspects (but don’t expect fair trial conditions...) and political frameups.
On 4th October, 40 of the accused found guilty of attempting to assassinate President Erdoğan during the coup were sentenced to life imprisonment, including Brigadier General Gökhan Sönmezateş, described as the head of the group charged with this “mission”. On the 9th began the trial of 143 ex-soldiers began. These were on the Istanbul bridge where the clashes during the coup caused the death of dozens of civilians, and are facing life sentences as well. According to a security source, after the Konya Public Prosecutor had issued 70 arrest warrants, 30 soldiers incriminated by other already arrested Gulenist suspects were arrested in Konya, Ankara, Eskişehir, Istanbul, Izmir, Kayseri and Yalova provinces, the others being actively sought. According to the same source, another operation launched from Tokat in 14 provinces led to the arrest of 14 soldiers and 5 civilians. Finally the 30th, the mass trial of over 220 suspected putschists, including the former commander of the Air Force Akin Öztürk and other high-ranking officers.
Regarding Human Rights defenders, the month began with by the Istanbul Public Prosecutors Office request of sentences of 7 to 15 years gaol for 11 activists, including Idil Eser, the director of Am Annesty International’s office in Turkey and Taner Kiliç, its president, together with a German citizen, Peter Steudtner, and a Swede, Ali Gharavi — all arrested on 5th July during a training workshop covering the protection of data and all accused of “assisting an armed terrorist organisation”, except Mr. Kiliç, arrested in June and accused of “membership in a terrorist organisation”: the evidence for this being that the police would have found on his telephone the coded messaging application ByLock, that Ankara considers is the putchists’ principal means of communication. It should be noted that they were all arrested before the “coup” and that the charge sheet mentions, in an implausible manner, three different terrorist organisations: “FETÖ” ((Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü, a name that Ankara has attributed to the Gulenist organisation), PKK, and DHKP-C, the name of a tiny far-left group. On the 25th, the court released on bail eight of the accused, including Idil Eser and the two foreigners but kept Kiliç in detention. On the 11th the Wall Street Journal announced the in absentia condemnation of its journalist Ayla Albayrak to two years and one month for “terrorist propaganda”. Turco-Finnish dual national, she had been charged in April 2016 following an article published in 2015 covering the fighting at Silopi between the security forces and the PKK. In this article she interviewed the mayor, a government official and a leader of a local association considered “terrorist” by Ankara. On the 20th five journalists of two news agencies launched only the month before, Jin News (an agency run entirely by women) and Mezopotamya were arrested, including the director of Jin, Sibel Yukler. Other hearings are planned beginning of next month for the cases of the Cumhuriyet journalists and the novelist Aslı Erdoğan, accused of supporting terrorists or terror propaganda.
The hunting down of members and elected representatives of the “pro-Kurdish” People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is also being pursued. On the 3rd the Member of Parliament, Besime Konca, was stripped of her office after a vote in Parliament, in accordance with a procedure launched against her because of her being “sentenced by a court” in accordance with article 84 of the Constitution. The decision was read out in Parliament, the other HDP Members banging their desks in Protest. On the 5ththe Diyarbekir Court sentenced the GDP spokesman, Osman Baydemir, to 1 year, 5 months and 15 days jail for having described, in 2012, 3 policemen as “fascists and worthless people”. On the 6th the HDP M.P. for Muş and lawyer Burcu Celik Öskan, the mother of a 3 year-old daughter, incarcerated since last April, was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for “supporting a terrorist group”: her “support” to PKK was that she had attended the funeral of a PKK fighter. On the 9th (at Bursa) and on the 10th (in Ankara) there were demonstrations commemorating the suicide attack of 10 October 2015, near Ankara station that had caused 103 deaths and 500 injured among HDP sympathisers, and protesting the complicity of the Turkish State with ISIS. These demonstrations were violently dispersed. The police also arrested 5 HDP members in Bursa Province after searching their homes. The 19th, the Gaziantep Court of appeal approved the sentence of 4 years and 7 months for Ferhat Encü, one of the 10 HDP Members of Parliament imprisoned, who thus now faces losing his M.P. status. The routine of charging, sentencing and stripping of term of office has now reached “cruising speed”: the number of HDP M.P.s has already dropped from 59 to 54…
The RTÜK, the High Council of Radio and Television (Radyo ve Televizyon Üst Kurulu) has also participated in the repression: on the 16th it dismissed several of its HDP members, whose seats were given to AKP representatives (membership in the Council is supposed to be in proportion to the number of parliamentary seats held by each party). The HDP protested officially against this decision that it described as “illegal”.
According to Amnesty International, since the state of emergency, already renewed 4 times, 150,000 people have been targeted for legal information, of whom 50,000 have been imprisoned and over 100,000 fired. Over 3,800 NGOs and 180 press organisations have been closed and 2,500 media professionals fired. According to the Turkish Journalists’ Association, 160 are in “preventive detention”. The HDP, in addition to its two co-presidents, DemirtaşandYüksekdağ, has 8 M.P.s, 80 mayors and thousands of its members behind bars...
Internationally this repression always arouses verbal condemnation: on the 6th the experts of constitutional law of the Venice Commission, a consultative organ of the Council of Europe, criticised the eviction of local elected HDP representatives, describing it as an “exercise without any judicial control of a discretionary control of the work of the municipalities concerned”. Considering that the emergency decree used “went beyond what is allowed by the international standards and the Turkish Constitution”, they called for the repeal of the measures allowing the appointment of unelected managers and the definition of a legal framework allowing “the reintegration of the suspended or dismissed local elected representatives if the charges against them linked to terrorism do not lead to criminal sentences”. Those terms were approved by 24 members of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, coming from 16 countries and 5 different political groups who published a declaration calling for the immediate release of the HDP Members of Parliament, in particular its two co-Presidents, as well as the CHP Member Enis Berberoğlu, and the launching of an enquiry by the member countries — demands that have little chance of succeeding.
More concretely, following the arrest early October of one of its Turkish staff members, the US Embassy in Ankara announced the suspension of the issuing of visas other than those for long sojourn — which provoked an identical measure from the Turkish side. In a communiqué published on the Embassy website, the Ambassador John Bass, declared he had been unable to obtain any information about the cause of the arrest or any evidence. Note that Ankara still demands the extradition of the preacher Fethullah Gülen, accused of being behind the “attempted putsch”. Confronted with demands of proof by the American legal system, the Turkish President had proposed exchanging Gulen with an American Presbyterian minister, Andrew Brunson, arrested in 2016 because of doubtful accusations of terrorism and espionage and still detained in Turkey!
Besides, the Turkish government’s secret services (MIT), the Higher Education Council (YÖK, Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu) and several ultranationalist organisations of the diaspora (in particular Doğu Perincek’s Country Party (Vatan Partisi) a well known denier of the Armenian genocide) have all been accused this month of activities abroad to intimidate fellow countrymen engaged in activities of which they disapprove or of illegally sending the Turkish State confidential information about them. According to a 9th October report of PJMedia, a conference about the Armenian genocide jointly organised by the Turkish private university Sabancı, the University of Michigan, the Dornsife Institute of Armenian Studies of South California University and Potsdam Lepsiushaus was the target of a violent campaign by the YÖK and Perincek that caused several Turkish researchers to cancel their participation. Perincek in particular declared on 6 September that seminaries of the conference devoted to the community and fate of Kurds and Armenians were “in the service of Kurdistan, or more exactly of the 'Second Israel' of American imperialism”. Another ultranationalist party, the Halkin Kurtuluş Partisi hasfiled a complaint for “insulting Tukish identity” (article 301 of the Turkish penal code) against the presidents of the Universities of Koç and Sabancı and 2 participants to the conference. In parallel, suspicions of infiltration of the German police by members of the Turkish MIT have again emerged following articles published by the news agency ANF (close to the PKK) and in the German magazine Spiegel, which provoked an enquiry.
Regarding the violence between the PKK and the Turkish Army, soldiers were killed by bombs detonated at the passage of their vehicle all through the month: on the 4th at Yüksekova, in Hakkari province (4 killed, 4 wounded); on the 14th at Siirt (7 wounded, 2 seriously) and on the 17th in the region of Zab (North Iraq), 4 other were killed (2 different bomb attacks). The Army announced it had retaliated, in this region, with air strikes that killed 8 PKK fighters. Finally from a security source, on the 23rd a bomb using the same procedure again killed a soldier in Hakkari.
Finally according to the State agency Anatolie, 5 members of the PKK were intercepted and killed by the security forces on the Mediterranean coast, in Western Turkey at Köycegiz (Mugla), a region very much visited by foreign tourists, but the PKK later accused the Turkish security of extrajudicial executions: 5 young men arrested in a car subsequently disappeared, though the local media did not report any clashes...
The 25th September referendum, organised by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) but also covering those territories disputed with Baghdad, took place as planned, giving the “YES” of 93% of the votes cast. Its immediate effect was a repetition of the “Saadabad Pact” — the treaty whereby Iraq, Iran and Turkey collaborated in 1937 to repress the Kurdish movement. The Iraqi central government that itself showed little respect for the Iraqi Constitution of 2005 used the excuse of the “unconstitutional” character of the referendum to rapidly apply sanctions and make fresh demands on the KRG to strangle it economically while attacking it by armed force. The “international community”, and particularly the Western powers, preferred to look the other way, forgetting the role of the Peshmergas in the fight against ISIS to defend their values.
Setting as from 27th September cancelling the referendum as a pre-condition for opening any discussions, the Iraqi Prime Minister rapidly began carrying out “legal measures” against the KRG which the latter denounced as “collective punishments”. The banning on the 29th of all international flights from Kurdistan (apart from humanitarian, military or diplomatic ones) forced most foreigners, working there without Iraqi visas, to leave. As a condition for renewal of flights, Abadi demanded control of the Kurdish airports. On the 30th Iran, which had already stopped air connections with Kurdistan, banned all land transport of oil products; the Iraqi Parliament voted the closing of all border posts held by the KRG, thus making goods transiting there smuggled goods. Baghdad also imposed restrictions on Kurdish banks. These clearly punitive measures only aroused indifference abroad. Thus the United States, declaring not recognising the referendum, called for the opening of discussions — already refused by Baghdad — thus implicitly demanding that Kurdistan give in.
This situation worsened the already severe political crisis in Kurdistan. On 1st October the Referendum High Council was replaced by a “Kurdistan political direction”, presided as was its predecessor by Masud Barzani. This consisted of members of the KDP, the PUK and the other parties except for Gorran, the principal opposition. This new body is charged with “managing the consequences of the poll, particularly relations with Baghdad and neighbouring countries” (AFP). Gorran immediately opposed setting up this body, describing it as “political regression”.
On the 2nd the military threat increased, with joint Iraqi-Iranian army manoeuvres in Iran opposite the Kurdish border posts, while Baghdad demanded the withdrawal of the Peshmergas from te disputed areas, which the KRG refused. In the middle of these tensions, the death was announced from Berlin on the 3rd of Jalal Talabani, the former President of Iraq and founder of the PUK. His body was flown to Suleimaniyah on the 6th for a funeral that brought together a great number of political figures, Kurdish, Iraqi and foreign (see separate article). On the 6th the Iraqi Ambassador to Turkey threatened the resumption of Turco-Iraqi action to open the Habur border post by force...
On the 8th Masud Barzani tried to lower the tension by starting discussions in Suleimaniyah with the two Iraqi Vice Presidents Oussama Noujaifi and Iyad Allawi, who had come there for the funeral. According to Noujaifi’s spokesman, Masud Barzani proposed to “freeze the referendum results” if the Kurdistan Region reached an agreement with Baghdad guaranteeing respect for its rights, and asked as pre-condition for discussion the lifting of the punitive measures. During the discussions, Baghdad made known a fresh demand: the control of the two largest mobile telephone companies in Iraq, Asiacell and Korek, which are based in Kurdistan. Then on the 10th Mr. Abadi declared he refused any discussion so long as the referendum was not cancelled. In the same day, the government asked the neighbouring countries to negotiate only with it for oil and decided to rehabilitate an oil pipeline linking Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, aiming at “short circuiting” the pipeline used by the Kurds for exporting that province’s oil. This decision leads one to think that military operations against Kirkuk and the border Iraqi-Turkish posts were already decided...
On the 11th a Baghdad court ordered the arrest of the referendum organisers, and that evening the KRG “Securuty Council” accused government forces and the Hashd al-Shaabi Shiite militia of preparing a “major offensive” against Kirkuk. As a precaution the Peshmergas blocked the principal routes from Mosul to Erbil and Dohouk with rocks and sand for several hours. On the 12th the KRG re-iterated its proposal to negotiate about the status of the airports, the border posts and the banks of the Kurdistan Region, while in the context of the Iraqi-Turkish manoeuvres, the Turkish tanks were positioning themselves opposite the Habur border post… On the 13th the KRG “Security Ciyncil” agai warned about the “Iraqi and Hashd al-Shaabi military concentration South of Kurkuk, with heavy tanks and artillery, as well as Humvees and mortars”. The first Iraqi military operations in Kirkuk Province began a few hours later, resulting in the Iraqis taking over several positions that had been held by Peshmergas for the last three years, especially Base 102, West of the city, from which the Peshmergas withdrew without fighting. The KRG then announced that reinforcements were being sent to Kirkuk and in the evening the Iraqi President, Fuad Massoum, who is himself a Kurd and member of PUK, went to Sulaimaniyah to meet those in the leadership. On the 14th a senior Kurdish politician stated anonymously that the Iraqis had sent an ultimatum to the Peshmergas to withdraw before the morning of the 15th to their pre-2014 positions. On the evening of the 14th, thousands of Peshmergas, soldiers and militia were facing one another near Kirkuk, then the ultimatum was postponed for 24 hours while discussions took place at Dokan, in Sulaimaniyah Province, between the Iraqi President, Fuad Massoum, the Kurdish President, Masud Barzani and senior PUK leaders. However Baghdad demanded, as a condition to opening discussions, the withdrawal of the Peshmergas from Kirkuk and the cancelation of the referendum, which the Kurds were not ready to accept.
During the night of the 15th, after initial exchanges of artillery fire, the Iraqis were able to advance rapidly and took back without meeting any resistance and virtually without any fighting, the industrial zone of Kirkuk and the Tal Al-Ward quarter in the Southwest side of the city. Hemin Hawrami, Masud Barzanu’s adviser indicated on Twitter that this defeat was due to “some internal problems and ambiguous agreements” which led “some commanders to order their Peshmergas to leave their positions”. Later Masud Barzani implicitly attributed the responsibility of the defeat to the PUK. The fracture seems, however, to have occurred inside that party, some of the Peshmerga commanders obeying Hiro and Bafel Talabani (the widow and one of the sons of Jalal Talabani) who ordered their men to withdraw following an agreement reached with Baghdad. This infuriated the Province’s Governor, Najmaddine Karim, and the KRG’s Vice-President, Kosrat Rassoul, who are both members of the PUK and could only witness the loss of the city, powerless. On the 16th around 4:30 pm, the Iraqi Federal Police announced that they had taken control of the Governorate offices, from which they removed the Kurdish flag, leaving the Iraqi flag alone flying. On the 17th the Iraqi Army, accompanied by the Hashd al-Shaabi militia, and probably “pasdaran” (Iranian Revolutionary Guards) took over 5 of the 6 Kirkuk oil fields after the withdrawal of the Kurdish forces. The Iraqi troops could also take over the Sinjar that the KDP Peshmergas had left, probably to defend Erbil. Although the Hashd al-Shaabi are mainly Shiite, it was a Yezidi militia, “Lalêsh”, that was deployed in Sinjar City. The last sector of Kirkuk province still in the hands of the Peshmergas was taken by Baghdad three days later, on the 20th.
Afer the loss of virtually all the disputed territories under the control of Peshmergas, the Erbil Parliament, that was due on the 18th to discuss the succession to Masud Barzani as President, decided to postpone that session sine die.
Baghdad’s punitive measures have continued. On 19th a warrant for the arrest of Kosrat Rassul, Vice-President of Kurdistan and leading figure of the PUK, was issued, on the grounds that he had described the Iraqi Army and the Federal Police in the Kirkuk Province as “occupation forces”. On the 23rd Erbil retaliated by warrants against 11 Iraqi public figures, including leaders of the Hashd al-Shaabi. The KRG, after a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani (KDP) and his Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani (PUK) declared it was in favour of dialogue with Baghdad, requesting the participation of the international community. Also in the 19th an exchange of fire between Kurdish and Iraqi troops took place near Altoun Kopri, a town at equal distance from both Kirkuk and Erbil (50 Km) and at the limits of the two provinces, which the Iraqis announcing they had regained the next day. In response to a call from Masud Barzani, the Kurds of the diaspora demonstrated before several US Embassies throughout the world to protest at the absence of support for Kurdistan. On the 21st Saad Adisi, spokesman of the Iraqi Prime Minister, again made even harder the conditions for a dialogue, demanding that it should take place in the framework of the integrity of Iraq, with the “return of the airports, border crossing posts, the country’s resources, Peshmergas and Kurdish security institutions…” (Rûdaw). On the 22nd after a meeting in Erbil, KDP and PUK announced their agreement for unconditional discussions with Baghdad on the basis of the Iraqi Constitution, making the point that they had “always been in favour of dialogue, the Iraqi party [having] chosen military logic”. On the same day Gorran asked for the resignation of President Barzani and Vice-President Kosrat Rassoul and “the constitution of a government of national salvation to prepare for dialogue with Baghdad and organise new elections”.
Have the American leaders begun to understand (a bit late in the day) that they had left the field open to Iran by abandoning their Kurdish allies to face the Hashd mulitia? On the 22nd the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the militia fighting in Iraq with Iranian support should “go back home” accusing Iran of using in Iraq, Yemen and Syria “its Revolutionary Guards and the pro-Iranian militia to extend its economic and political influence”. Mr. Abadi’s cabinet replied on the 23rd that the Hashd el-Shaabi were inly made up of Iraqis and under control. On the same day the Iraqis deployed tanks near the Kurdish pipeline leading to Turkey, declaring they wanted to take control of the Turco-Kurdish border post of Ibrahim Khalil (Kurdish side) / Habur (Turkish side) and the one connecting with Rojava, (Pêsh Khabur) which is on the Tigris and has been held by the Kurds for the last 25 years …
On the 24th, while an attack by the Hashd on the town of Makhmour, à 60 km Southwest of Erbil, was being repelled, the Kurdish Parliament, in the absence of the opposition (Gorran and Jamaa Islamiya had boycotted the session) voted an 8-month postponement of the parliamentary election, originally planned for 1st November, declaring that a new date should also be set for the Presidential election. According to Bahzad Zebari, an M.P. for the Islamic Union of Kurdistan (Yekgirtû), “Parliament decided to freeze the activity of the Kurdistan Presidency” (AFP). In the evening of the same day, the KRG declared itself ready to “freeze” the results of the referendum and asked for a cease fire with Baghdad, while UNO re-iterated its proposal of helping negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil. In fact, the next day there was fresh fighting using heavy artillery between the Peshmergas on one side and the Iraqi Army and the Hashd on the other; Hashd spokesman, Ahmed al-Assadi, shortly rejected the proposal of a “freeze” as “valueless”: “Freeze means recognising the referendum, yet the Iraqi Government demand its annulment” — a position confirmed in the morning of 26th by Mr. Abadi and repeated by the head of Turkish diplomatic corps.
In contraste, the British Parliament adopted, in the 24th, “Motion 451”, one of the rare Western expressions of support for the Kurds, in which it “regrets Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi's decision, for electoral reasons and in collaboration with the Iranian regime, its revolutionary guards and brutally-sectarian Shia militia, to use force as a first resort to take Kirkuk and other disputed territories from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG); notes that the KRG, on the request of the Iraqi Government, reinforced its military presence to prevent Daesh capturing Kirkuk when Iraqi troops fled in 2014 and was constitutionally compliant; further regrets that Prime Minister Abadi claims to follow the Iraqi constitution, although serial and flagrant violations of its federal provisions bolstered Kurds resoundingly backing eventual and negotiated independence” (https://www.parliament.uk/edm/2017-19/451).
On the 26th, the Iraqi Army and Hashd attacked the Peshmergas with heavy artillery near the Pêsh Khabour border post connecting Kurdistan with Rojava, situated on the Tigris river, at the junction of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The KRG criticised the use of US Army vehicles, supplied to fight ISIS as unconstitutional and contrary to the agreements of October 2016 between the KRG, Iraq and the United States. In Turkey the Customs Ministry announced that its country was waiting for Baghdad to take over the border to be able to open a new passage point at Ovakoy... On the 27th, after a fresh ultimatum to the Peshmergas to leave Pêsh Khabour “within a few hours”, Baghdad announced the stopping of operations for 24 hours, and negotiations began at Mosul between Kurdish and Iraqi officers meeting in a “Technical Committee” supervised by the anti-ISIS coalition to “work on the deployment of the Iraqi Federal forces in all the disputed areas, including Pêsh Khabour, and the international borders (communiqué of the Iraqi Prime Minister). The cease fire has been prolonged till the 29th.
On the 28th the Kurdish TV channel Rûdaw announced that the Iraqi media Commission had published, on the 23rd, a decree ordering its closure, the prohibition of its teams to work and the seizure of their equipment throughout Iraq — without even notifying the channel officially. The reason given was the lack of a licence, and the broadcasting of programs “that incited violence”. On the same day the channel Kurdistan 24 wrote to the International Federation of Journalists to ask for an enquiry into its having been banned de facto by the Iraqi Government since the beginning of military operations, its teams being prevented from covering the news.
On the 29th the Kurdish Parliament meeting in secret session read a letter from Masud Barzani whereby he announced his resignation from the Presidency as from 1st November. There were violent reaction after the session and clashes between his partisans and the Parliament’s security.
On the 30th Mr. Abadi, in an interview with Patrick Cockburn, a journalist on the British daily The Independent, clearly expressed the objectives he had been pursuing since using the referendum as an excuse: to weaken Kurdistan militarily while integrating the Peshmergas into the governments security forces and economically taking back control of all the international passage points, including the oil pipelines. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/kurdistan-iraq-prime-minister-abadi-interview-independence-haider-baghdad-kirkuk-patrick-cockburn-a8028201.html). Kurdistan 24 points out that these plans take little notice of the Iraqi constitution, whose article 114 divided the country’s management between Federal, Regional and Provincial governments, or of articles 115 or 121 that make revenue subject to the judiciary of Kurdistan… However, according to the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, that did not stop the Iraqis, with the agreement of the Turks, from installing at the Habur border post a supplementary checkpoint on the bridge crossing the neutral zone, between the one held by the Kurds and the Turkish post.
The former president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, familiarly called «Mam Jalal» (Uncle Jalal) by many Kurds, was the founder and historic leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two principal Iraqi Kurdish parties. He died on 3rd October in Germany at the age of 83. The rapid deterioration in his state of health had made it necessary to transfer him to that country just before the 25th September referendum.
Born on 12 December 1933 in the mountain village of Kelkan, Talabani did his secondary schooling in Kirkuk, then having a majority Kurdish population, before going on to Baghdad University. Attracted to Marxism but also a Kurdish nationalist and admirer of Molla Mustafa Barzani, at that time in exile in the Soviet Union, after having taken part in the foundation of the Mahabad Kurdish Republic, in 1947 he joined the KDP, which had been formed the year earlier.
Entering the Central Committee of the KDP in 1951, Talabani married Hiro Ibrahim Ahmad, the daughter of the KDP General Secretary, an intellectual and a writer, Ibrahim Ahmad. While he was at University, he took part in the creation of Kurdish youth organisations and particularly of a students Union. Obliged to go underground in 1956, he only came out of underground after the Republican revolution of 1958. Having obtained his law degree in 1959 he did his national service as commander of an armoured unit.
In 1961 he took part in the first big Kurdish revolt of the Iraqi Republic, still led by Mustafa Barzani. When, in 1964, without having obtained the agreement of the KFP Political Committee, the latter signed a peace pact that did not make any mention of autonomy for Kurdistan, Talabani became a dissident to the KDP, joining the faction directed by his father in law, which supported the continuing of the struggle. Excluded from the Political Committee together with the latter and three other leaders, he went into exile in Iran. These divergences led them after 1966 to fighting the KDP in a militia supported by the Baghdad government. After the 1970 peace agreement between the Baghdad government and the KDP that provided for Kurdish Regional autonomy, Jalal Talabani took part in the internal reconciliation in the Kurdish movement in Iraq and was sent to represent the KDP in the Lebanon and Syria. After the restarting of the war between the KDP and the central government in 1970 and the defeat in 1975, whereas Mustafa Barzani went into exile and died in the United States, Talabani founded the PUK in Damascus. His aim was to bring about a renewal to the Kurdish national movement. This new party was to become the KDP’s great rival. However the genocidal operations of Anfal conducted between 1987-88 by the Iraqi Army, which did not hesitate about using chemical weapons, was to lead to a reconciliation between the two political organisations. After Saddam Hussein’s defeat in Kuwait in 1991, when an insurrection broke out in Iraqi Kurdistan, it was together that the PUK and the KDP took part in setting up the first Kurdistan Regional Government, protected by the no-fly zone defended by the Western allies, the US, the UK and France.
Unfortunately the latent conflict between the two parties evolved in 1994 into a civil war that remained in the Kurdish memories under the name of birakujî (fratricidal war), leading to the division of Iraqi Kurdistan into two zones of influence, and only ended in 1998. Nevertheless, when it became clear that the US intended to put an end to the Saddam Hussein regime, the PUK, led by Jalal Talabani and the KDP led by Masud Barzani (the son of Mustafa Barzani) drew closer to enable the Iraqi Kurds make their voices heard under the best conditions in the post-Saddam Iraq. When the regime fell in 2003 the two leaders organised a common electoral list for the 2005 parliamentary elections. While Masud Barzani became President of the Kurdistan Region, Talabani was elected President of Iraq by the National Assembly on 6 April 2005. Re-elected for a seconf term of office on 22 April 2006, then on 11 November for a third term, he was to fill the post of President of Iraq until 2014. His will to work at bringing together different people and communities of the country was noted.
However Talabani’s health was deteriorating. Having successfully had a heart operation in 2008 he nevertheless suffered a stroke and in 2012 had to leave Iraq for Germany, where he remained for treatment. During this period many people doubted his ability to return to Iraq. He did return in July 2014 when ISIS had succeeded in taking control of a large part of the country, but from this time on, he no longer played any active political role.
As his health was again deteriorating he was sent to Germany for a third time, where he finally died on the 3rd October.
In the morning of 6th October a plane of Iraqi Airways brought Jalal Talabani’s body back from Germany and landed in Suleimaniyah by special exception to the banning of international flights to Kurdistan. So many tens of thousands came to pay tribute to him that it made difficult to transfer the coffin to the mosque, which took three hours. Amongst those present were the President of Kurdistan, Masud Barzani, the President of Iraq, Fuad Massoum, the Iraqi Minister of the Interior, Qassem Al-Araji, the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Salim al-Juburi, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and representatives of Kurdish political parties from Iran, Syria and Turkey.
The Iraqi and Kurdish national anthems were played before the coffin was carried into the mosque. The deceased’s coffin was covered by the Kurdish – and not Iraqi – flag, which sparked controversy and led some of those attending to leave the ceremony – a local Iraqi TV channel close to Iran having even interrupted the broadcasting of the ceremony. Even in death Jalal Talabani would be, paradoxically, both a Kurdish political leader and an Iraqi statesman.