Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed militia launched a fresh assault on Kurdish soldiers Thursday near the city of Mosul. Iraqi troops shelled Kurdish Peshmerga positions after launching a “four-pronged assault” at dawn, the Kurdistan Regional Security Council said, in the latest sign Baghdad is ignoring U.S. urgings for dialogue with the country’s renegade region.
Kurdish forces claimed they repelled the attack by noon local time — after destroying several pieces of military hardware that had originally been supplied by the United States to Iraq to aid the fight against ISIS.
Fighting between the sides erupted on Oct. 15 after weeks over hand-wringing over Kurdistan’s decision to hold a referendum on pursuing independence, a move that enraged Baghdad, which has already retaken the oil-rich region of Kirkuk from Kurdish control.
On Thursday, Baghdad spurned Kurdistan’s offer to “freeze” the results of referendum, insisting the plebiscite be cancelled outright.
The U.S. has seemed reluctant to do more than beg its Iraqi and Kurdish allies to put aside their differences and talk it out. On a surprise trip to Baghdad this week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to stop using violence against the Kurds.
“We want calm, we want dialogue,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a press briefing this week. “We don’t want any violent acts being taken by anyone on any side.”
So far, no one in Baghdad appears to be listening.
Nauert declined to say whether stronger measures are being considered in the event that Iraqi leaders fail to choose the course of dialogue.
Frustration over the U.S. position is beginning to boil over in Congress, where Republicans have increasingly criticized the Trump administration’s reluctance to stand up for America’s longtime Kurdish allies — even as Baghdad deploys U.S.-supplied weaponry against them.
“In the darkest days of the Iraq War, the Kurds fought shoulder-to-shoulder alongside U.S. troops against the diabolic forces of Islamic fascism,” Representative Trent Franks of Arizona said in a statement Wednesday. “It is surreal to watch these events unfold even as the D.C. foreign policy establishment insists our Iraq strategy is working fine.”
In a New York Times Op-ed Wednesday, Senator John McCain wrote: “If the United States is forced to choose between Iranian-backed militias and our longstanding Kurdish partners, I choose the Kurds.”
The fighting has already “negatively impacted Coalition efforts to defeat ISIS, specifically the inability to move military equipment and supplies to our partners both in Iraq and Syria,” a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, Col. Ryan Dillon, told the Associated Press Thursday.
Senior U.S. officials have openly worried that neighboring Iran will exploit Iraq’s instability, and use the situation to extend its influence throughout the Middle East.
As if to confirm those fears, Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Abadi flew to Tehran Thursday for talks with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“Mr. Khamenei was impressed by the courageous and wise leadership of Dr. Haider Al-Abadi, and congratulated the prime minister and the Iraqi people on the great victories of Iraqi forces,” Iraq’s Prime Minister said in a statement.