— KR Security Council (@KRSCPress) October 16, 2017
As the Iraqi military and its Iranian-backed allies in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) attacked the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the international coalition assembled to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, attempted to whitewash the operation by claiming it was a misunderstanding partially attributed to darkness. CJTF-OIR made the statement despite the fact it was abundantly obvious that the Iraqi government sought to seize Kirkuk from the Kurdish Peshmerga, and had signaled its intentions days beforehand.
In a statement released by CJTF-OIR on Oct. 16, as Iraqi forces moved against the Peshmerga south and southwest of Kirkuk, the US-dominated coalition command reported that Iraqi forces had not attacked, but instead were conducting “coordinated movements” of vehicles in the area. Then, CJTF-OIR contradicted itself and noted “a limited exchange of fire” due to a “misunderstanding” caused by “limited visibility conditions.” Astonishingly, CJTF-OIR then claimed Iraqi and Kurdish forces “attempted to link up.”
Below is an excerpt from CJTF-OIR’s statement:
The Coalition is monitoring movements of military vehicles and personnel in the vicinity of Kirkuk. These movements of military vehicles, so far, have been coordinated movements, not attacks.
Coalition forces and advisors are not supporting Government of Iraq or Kurdistan Regional Government activities near Kirkuk, but are aware of reports of a limited exchange of fire during predawn hours of darkness Oct. 16. We believe the engagement this morning was a misunderstanding and not deliberate as two elements attempted to link up under limited visibility conditions.
CJTF-OIR made these surprising statements as both the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi government were reporting on clashes in and around Kirkuk, and numerous videos were circulating showing the fighting outside the city.
Sadly, this is not a new phenomena when it comes from US military officials based in Iraq. US commanders have presented the absolute best case scenario in its fight against the Islamic State as well its assessment of the PMF as a legitimate Iraqi security force that is not beholden to Iran. For instance, in May 2015, as Ramadi fell to the Islamic State, General Martin Dempsey, then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military leader in the country, said that Iraqi forces weren’t driven out of Ramadi, they drove out on their own. And that a sandstorm attributed to the Iraqi military’s defeat in Anbar’s provincial capital (Dempsey never did explain why the Islamic State could effectively attack during a sandstorm while Iraqi troops failed to defend their positions).
US military officers and officials have also provided cover for the PMF, which is primarily comprised of militias controlled or influenced by Iran. Since Iraq made the PMF an official security apparatus, and US commanders were insistent on defeating the Islamic State at all costs, even at the expense of throwing in their lot with militias that remain hostile to America and are responsible for killing hundreds if not thousands of Americans, US generals provided cover for the PMF, and even supported their operations with air strikes.
In May 2015, General (retired) John Allen, who at the time was the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter the Islamic State, told us that “the fact that militias are involved and tribes are involved in this part of the campaign, this part of the implementation of supporting Iraq ultimately to recover the country, should not alarm us.”
Brett McGurk, the current Special Presidential Envoy for Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State, and other US officials have also continuously legitimized and provided cover for the PMF and lauded their role in operations against the Islamic State.
And yet today, these same militias are taking direction from Iran and have attacked America’s only remaining true and reliable, if imperfect, ally inside Iraq: the Kurdistan Regional Government. Perhaps that should alarm us.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.