MESOP: GREAT DANGER FOR KIRKUK – 7,000 Arab Shiite fighters near Iraq’s Kirkuk, ready to enter the city on Amiri order

February 21, 2015 by and others – KIRKUK,— With the arrival of Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashdi Shabi) in northern Iraq’s Kirkuk region, purportedly to join Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the fight against the Islamic State group (IS), the question of how these shifting alliances will play out remains.According to the head of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Hadi al-Amiri, there are now approximately 7,000 of the Arab Shiite fighters near the city of Kirkuk, and they are ready to enter the city on his order.

On the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) side, President Massoud Barzani said during a meeting in Kirkuk Tuesday, “We do not need Hashdi Shabi, and if we were in need, we would tell them.”Kirkuk is in Kurdistan and “will never fall to the enemy again,” Kurdish President Massoud Barzani vowed, declaring that Iraq’s Kurds would die defending the city from the Islamic State (IS).

“Kirkuk is as important to the enemy as it is to us,” Barzani said after visiting some of the highest-ranking Kurdish military leaders, frontline commanders and the Kirkuk governor on Tuesday.Barzani had given previous orders to Kurdish Peshmerga leaders not to allow the Popular Mobilization Forces into the city.According to Stratfor the governor of Kirkuk, Najmaddin Karim and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK may in fact be willing to defy Barzani’s order to keep Shiite militias out of Kirkuk. Stratfor received information that in recent days, Karim held a closed-door meeting with Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of Iraq’s oldest and most politically integrated Shiite militia, the Badr Organization. The details of the meeting have not been disclosed, but there are hints that both Karim and Hero Talabani, who is married to PUK leader Jalal Talabani and wields considerable influence over the party, are both in negotiations to allow Shiite militias into Kirkuk.

While Peshmerga forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces now face a shared enemy in the form of IS, it is unknown how long this fragile alliance could hold, particularly if Iranian-backed Shiite militias increase their presence in the area.

The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is one of the most disputed areas by the Kurdistan regional government and the Iraqi government in Baghdad. The Kurds are seeking to integrate Kirkuk province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region clamming it to be historically a Kurdish city, the population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs, Christians and Turkmen. Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call “the Kurdish Jerusalem.” Kurds see it as the rightful and perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state.Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city and other disputed areas through having back its Kurdish inhabitants and repatriating the Arabs relocated in the city during the former regime’s time to their original provinces in central and southern Iraq. The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to “Arabize” the city and the region’s oil industry. Kirkuk fell to the full control of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces after the IS June insurgency in Iraq and the withdrawal of Iraqi army form the province and some other northern region of the state, including second-biggest city of Mosul.