IRGC-linked factions step up activity against Kurdistan region of Iraq

BAGHDAD — Iran-linked Shia armed groups operating in Iraq have recently stepped up their messaging against, and possibly their attacks on, forces operating in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) amid accusations that which they have too close relations with the United States.

Iran-linked ‘muqawama’ (resistance) factions are also unhappy with the close ties between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Turkey, in part linked to these factions’ increasingly close relationship with the Workers’ Party. of Kurdistan (PKK) in Sinjar. northwestern region of Iraq.

Some attacks on peshmerga forces in recent months may have been carried out by these groups, as Islamic State (IS) attacks on forces operating under the KRG also continue.

Eight Katyusha rockets were fired after 7 p.m. on January 7 at Kurdish peshmerga forces in Pirde near Altun Kupri, a town about 40 kilometers northwest of the city of Kirkuk on the main road between Erbil and Baghdad. The rockets were fired from the east and south sides of their targets.

A few days earlier, a peshmerga fighter had been shot and wounded by an unidentified gunman in another village in Kirkuk province.

Different forces operate in the oil-rich province, which is disputed between the central government in Baghdad and the KRI capital, Erbil.

Altun Kupri has a mixed Turkmen, Kurdish and Arab population. Although most attacks on security forces in Iraq tend to be blamed on IS cells by default, security sources operating in the region said armed groups close to Iran were suspected of being involved in the December 7 incident and others.

One February 2021 attack on Erbil, in which more than a dozen rockets were fired at a base housing US-led coalition forces at Erbil International Airport and residential areas of the city, was at the time claimed by a shadow group that many believe is likely to be a front group for other Iran-linked armed groups with political wings in Baghdad. Two people were killed and more than a dozen others were injured.

Two months later, there was the first known explosive-laden drone attack on US forces in Erbil. Iran-linked groups welcomed the attack but did not claim responsibility for it. Other drone attacks happened at the airport in the months that followed.

Before that, in October 2020, supporters of Iran-linked armed factions operating in Iraq fire the headquarters in Baghdad of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP). The KDP is the largest political party in the autonomous region and has close trade relations with Iraq’s northern neighbor Turkey.

Some of those accompanying the men who set fire to the premises held up posters of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport in January 2020.

Factions linked to the IRGC have accused the KRG of complicity in the assassination.

Meanwhile, a senior State of Law Coalition official called on Monday Responsible Sunnis and Kurds for “a split among the Shiites”, while Abu Ali al-Askari, a spokesman for the armed Kataib Hezbollah linked to the IRGC, warned that “Iraq could experience difficult days and all would lose”.

At the end of 2021, former Iraqi Interior Minister Baqir Jabr al-Zubaidi claimed that the United States had “installed missiles in a secret camp in the mountains of the Kurdistan region of Iraq”.

Abbas al-Zaidi, from the Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) political office, sent this journalist a message on December 22 after Zubaidi’s statement, railing against these alleged secret facilities and wondering if “Erbil has become an American base for the occupation of Iraq” and how they can “know or determine [what is in] the base of Ain al-Asad [in the Sunni Arab-majority province Anbar]after the “news”.

KSS was one of the groups initially blamed for the February 2021 attack on Erbil. It is an armed group close to the IRGC but which has been incorporated into the popular mobilization units paid by the Iraqi government. It was targeted by US airstrikes near the Iraq-Syria border.

Zaidi had previously warned in a June 2021 message to this reporter after one such attack that the KRG would receive “no small punishment” due to “the blood of our sons and martyrs who were targeted at the borders last night by American occupation”. , to which [the KRG] provides all means of support to kill the sons of Iraq.

A source from the US-led international coalition responded to a request for clarification on January 12 about its presence at Al-Monitor’s KRI by stating the following: “The coalition ended its combat role in Iraq, starting December 9. 2021. The Coalition no longer has its own bases in Iraq and recently hosted a delegation of Iraqi military and diplomatic officials who witnessed our transition to a force that advises, assists and enables Iraqi forces to maintain enduring defeat.

The coalition, meanwhile, continues to provide hundreds of millions of dollars annually supports the Iraqi security forces and pays the salaries of units of certain peshmerga forces.

Rudaw, KRI local media reported last year that “there are approximately 30,000 peshmerga fighters in 13 brigades who receive their salaries from US funding. The United States has provided military and financial assistance, as well as training, to peshmerga forces since 2014.”

A request sent to a coalition spokesperson for more information on this funding and its requirements had not been answered at the time of publication. However, it is well known that the United States has for decades maintained close relationships with Kurdish regional forces and the government in Erbil.

A new United States Consulate in Erbil, presented as the “largest” in the world, was “structurally” completed in September 2021.

Iran-linked groups have long called the sprawling US embassy in Baghdad a “spy cove” and are likely to regard the massive new KRI consulate in the same way.

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