The "War after ISIS" begins in Iraq
By Jennifer Cafarella and Omer Kassim with Najjam Malik
Key Takeaway: A battle is underway between the Iraqi Government, backed by Iran, and Iraqi Kurds for control of Kirkuk, Iraq. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Counterterrorism Services (CTS), Federal Police, and Iranian-backed popular mobilization forces (PMF) launched a combined offensive with intent to seize the K1 military base, the Kirkuk airport, and Kirkuk’s oilfields from Kurdish Peshmerga forces at 2:00 a.m. on October 15th. The offensive follows two days of failed negotiations after the government of Iraq (GOI), backed by Iran, demanded Kurdish forces withdraw. US efforts to de-escalate failed. Iran’s role in the offensive further strengthens its influence within Iraq, sidelines the U.S., and will increase Arab Shiite popular support for Iranian-backed candidates in Iraq’s upcoming elections, currently scheduled for April 2018. Iran’s use of an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) against U.S. forces in Salah al Din Province, southwest of Kirkuk, on October 1 likely signals Iran’s resolve to use force to deter the U.S. from taking a direct military role. ISW is monitoring the situation and will provide regular updates.
What happened: Elements from a combined force of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Counterterrorism Services (CTS), Federal Police, and Iranian-backed popular mobilization forces (PMF) south of Kirkuk City launched a probing attack against Peshmerga forces southwest of Kirkuk at 2:00 a.m. on October 15th. The Iranian-backed units include the Badr Organization’s Turkmen Brigade (the 16th PMU brigade) and three brigades from Asai’b Ahl al-Haq (the 41st, 42nd and 43rd PMU brigades). Clashes are ongoing in the industrial zone southwest of Kirkuk City at the time of writing.