Kurdish president declares victory in Bashiqa, rejects return to pre-ISIS borders

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President Barzani (C). File photo

ARA News

Bashiqa – Kurdish President Masoud Barzani on Wednesday announced the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Bashiqa city, which was recaptured by the Kurdish Peshmerga last week. In his sweeping speech, he also implicitly rebuked a US official who had said that the Peshmerga would withdraw to the Kurdistan Region’s pre-ISIS borders.

“I know the heroes we’ve lost. I know their sacrifices. They protected the nation and our dignity. We have sacrificed more than 11,500 martyrs and wounded heroes in this fight,” Barzani solemnly said.  “We have lost brave heroes. We will never recover from these deep wounds. The world is proud of the Peshmerga – they embody heroism.”

“There will be no negotiations about the territories liberated by Peshmerga before the Mosul offensive,” Barzani declared. “This is a new chapter. ISIS is on the path to defeat. Peshmerga shed their blood to free Kurdistan’s land and end the suffering of our people.”

President Barzani’s Bashiqa speech then diverged into other channels. He stressed that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will punish those jihadists who were involved in the kidnapping and enslavement of Yezidi women. “We will continue to pursue every individual who played a part in harming our women. Wherever they may be, they will pay,” he said.

Iraq’s leading Kurdish politician also declared that the Islamic State’s confederates and supporters would not be tolerated in Bashiqa or other disputed territories. “We will not allow ISIS collaborators to return to areas liberated by Peshmerga. They have become partners with ISIS. Territories liberated in the Mosul offensive will be left to locals to defend,” he said.

“Our goal is to deliver peace and stability to liberated areas. We will not differentiate between groups. We will not abandon you,” Barzani added.

The President of Iraqi Kurdistan said that the Kurdish Peshmerga will continue to be mobilized, trained and armed since it’s unclear what threats may emerge in the future. “After the removal of the Baath regime [in 2003] we were faced with Ansar al-Sunna and al-Qaeda. Now we have defeated ISIS,” he stated.

The Kurdish President told his audience that independence remained on his government’s agenda. “We want to achieve [Kurdistan’s] independence through dialogue with Iraq. If it fails we will hold a referendum,” he said. 

“We have spoken openly with Baghdad about independence: we couldn’t achieve partnership. Let’s try living as peaceful neighbors,” Barzani added.

Speaking to ARA News, Ceng Sagnic, a researcher with the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, said that the Bashiqa speech was a summary of the imminent challenges facing the Kurds.

“First of all, Barzani’s Bashiqa speech was about the Kurdistan Region’s post-ISIS borders,” Sagnic said. “[It] was an indirect response to the US Ambassador Douglas Silliman’s remarks on November 14, that the US expects the KRG to withdraw to its pre-2014 borders after the Mosul operation.”

“However, the future of de facto KRG rule in large parts of Iraq’s disputed territories is dependent on the US stance. The US has so far tolerated and even supported the KRG’s expansion into these territories at the expense of ISIS. Even the memorandum of understanding, between KRG and the US, clearly [gave] support for KRG Peshmerga operations against ISIS in the disputed territories without any interference from the central Iraqi government,” Sagnic told ARA News.

“Nevertheless, one should take the post-ISIS situation in northern Iraq into consideration to assess what might be next in this region. The KRG has to convince both the central Iraqi government and the US to legitimize its military presence in these regions, which is still far from any de jure status,” the Tel-Aviv based researcher added.

“Therefore, pre-Mosul negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad should not be taken for granted. A new round of negotiations on the future of the KRG presence in the disputed territories will begin only after the Islamic State’s control in Mosul [has been] totally annihilated,” Sagnic concluded.

General Bahram Arif Yassin, spoke to ARA News from his new base in Bashiqa. While Barzani’s Bashiqa speech addressed the past and future, the general was focused on the present campaign in which his brigade is engaged.

“The town of Bashiqa has been cleaned from ISIS terrorists. Peshmerga forces are now strengthening our border with Mosul province,” Gen Yassin said. “There is only a small part of the Kurdistan territories outside of the borders of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Peshmerga will liberate them too.”

Gen Yassin told ARA News that once “Kurdistan’s Peshmerga secure that border, neither the ISIS terrorist organization nor any other violent group will be able to harm the security of the Kurdistan Region.”

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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