EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: There may be a silver, if risky, lining for Kurdish nationalists in their devastating loss of Kirkuk and other cities on the periphery of their semi-autonomous region as they lick their wounds and vent anger over the deep-seated internal divisions that facilitated the Iranian-backed Iraqi blitzkrieg. Mounting popular anger coupled with US Congressional fury could position the Kurds as a key player in potential US efforts to roll back Iranian influence in Iraq and counter the Islamic Republic as part of President Donald J. Trump’s tougher approach towards Tehran.
Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, in his first comment on the military rout of his Peshmerga forces, vowed that the overwhelming vote for Kurdish independence in a controversial referendum last month “won’t be in vain.” Refusing to take responsibility for the rout, Barzani blamed the Kurdish predicament on his political rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which allegedly ordered the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from Kirkuk.
Technically, that may well be correct. An Iranian Revolutionary Guard general and close associate of Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani known as Eqbalpour, accompanied by two Iraqi military commanders, reportedly met on the eve of the Iraqi assault on Kirkuk with Kurdish officers in the offices of the PUK in the city. Eqbalpour urged the Kurds to surrender the city peacefully.
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