MESOP REPORT : Kurdish Trenches Alarm Iraq’s Minorities

28 Jan 2016 – By nrttv – Kurdish authorities dig a trench around the current Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Peshmerga occupied territories outside the region’s technical area, January 28, 2016 (REUTERS). – KIRKUK — The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are digging trenches which they say are security measures to prevent attacks in areas bordering territory controlled by Islamic State (IS), which has taken control of parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria. The trenches start in Rabai town on the Syrian border and stretch to Khanaqin on the Iranian border, with the measure alarming the country’s ethnic Turkmen minority, who say they are concerned that Iraq’s Kurds are trying to establish borders.

 This is not the first implementation of such a project, as the Kurdish authorities dug a trench around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in 2013. The new trenches now include an extension around the whole territory of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

As excavators dug wide trenches, Kurdish authorities said the ditch would protect Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from IS militants, as conflict grinds on in Syria and other Iraqi territories south of the autonomous region.”The defensive trenches, that are being dug in the locations of Peshmerga forces in front of locations controlled by IS forces, don’t represent borders for the Kurdistan region, they are for preventing booby-trapped vehicles and suicide bombers of IS forces reaching Peshmerga locations to reduce losses of Peshmerga, these trenches have nothing to do with Kurdistan region’s borders or any geographical or political subjects or the issues between the region and the central government,” said Secretary General of the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces, Jabber Yawar.

The IS militants, made up of Iraqis, other regional sympathizers and foreign fighters, pose the biggest security threat to Iraq since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Campaigns to contain IS have moved slowly in Iraq, where sectarian divisions and corruption have hindered military progress. Yawar added that no attempt to carve up a state would be made without talks with the Iraqi government and regional leaders.

“We have the right to have a future referendum in the region, as the Arabs have 22 countries, the region also has the right to have a country and when the region decided to have a country it will be through agreements with the central government, all world countries and the United Nations, in addition to the approval of neighboring regions,” the Peshmerga leader said.

The Peshmerga Commander of South Kirkuk, Hiwa Abdulla, reasserted that forces were not drawing up borders, but using the ditch as a defensive line.

“We heard from some TV channels, that Kurdish forces are digging a trench for drawing the borders of the Kurdistan region and this is not the correct picture, what’s right is that the trench is made for securing the defensive locations for Peshmerga forces and not for something else and you can see that with your own eyes,” he said.

But Turkmen Member of Parliament, Hasan Turhan, called on the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to investigate the trench building.”We are asking Haider al-Abadi, being the General Commander of the Armed Forces, firstly if he approved digging this trench, secondly why the digging was in secret, thirdly if the digging was for security reasons. There should be reassurances from the Kurdistan region that the trench will not be used for political purposes or for drawing borders,” he said.

The Kurds took full control of Kirkuk last summer when Iraqi soldiers abandoned their bases in and around the city as IS militants overran around a third of the country.The Peshmerga, who gained battlefield experience fighting Saddam Hussein’s forces when the autocrat was in power, are seen by the United States and its coalition partners as a vital deterrent against IS, which wants to redraw the map of the Middle East. Iraq’s army is regarded by some as ineffective and corrupt, and depends heavily on Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in its efforts to contain IS. International coalition members have trained thousands of Iraqi and Kurdish forces over the past few years. Germany and the U.S. have recently sent additional training resources and financial support to arm and train both the Kurdish and Iraqi forces. Kurdish leaders say they will never give up Kirkuk, which sits outside the formal Kurdistan Region boundary on some of Iraq’s largest oil reserves, but to which they, as well as Turkmen and Arabs, lay claim.