What happened? Peshmerga vs. Iraq forces, evaluating clashes, issues and challenges in October 2017


In the wake of the unprecedented withdrawal of Peshmerga forces from Kirkuk and other disputed territories in the face of an offensive by Iraq security forces in October 2017 many questions have been raised about what happened. Many rumors, including false images and exaggerations have been put on social media. There are few reliable reports. Given the lack of information it is worthwhile to piece together some of what is known and alleged to evaluate what happened. Did the peshmerga flee in front of overwhelming force or make a “tactical withdrawal”? Was it planned and coordinated, as the US-led coalition has asserted, or did it involve secret deals and units and their leaders abandoning their colleagues on the line, leaving gaps so large that armored forces drove through them without a fight. Was Kirkuk and other areas abandoned “without firing a shot” and if so, why? What happened on October 20th in the clashes around Altun Kupri (Pirde), the only serious engagement where Peshmerga forces sought to stem the Iraqi advance? Has the peshmerga image been tarnished by the performance or is this an unsurprising re-play of the retreats in August 2014? Or is what we have seen just very minor clashes with the real forces held in reserve purposely to preserve them? What about the use of foreign weapons, including Abrams tanks by the Iraqi forces and Milan and other anti-tank weapons by the Kurds.

There are far more questions than can be answered fully. Here is a limited look at the information.

Lack of unified Peshmerga command: Let’s start at the end. On October 23, as part of its overall call for changes in the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Gorran or Change movement tweeted: “Imagine a Kurdistan, with united Peshmerga forces, professional and unbiased following orders from 1 government, not two families.” The issue of unifying the Peshmerga forces and weaning them of reliance on the party structures of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan from which they emerged has been discussed in the past. A Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs was founded in 2010 and then Kurdistan parliament speaker Kemal Kirkuki told the US ambassador’s senior advisor for northern Iraq in January 2010 that “there had been progress in merging the KDP and PUK-affiliated wings of the peshmerga.” However a Carnegie endowment article noted it had only a “veneer” of unity and that despite orders to increase reforms in July 2014, it had done little by 2015. This is not surprising since the Kurdistan region was attacked by Islamic State in August 2014 and reforms were partly put on hold during the war.

Fazel Hawramy wrote in January 2015 that the war effort along 1,000 km of frontline was hampered by the lack of unified forces and a unified command structure. “Ali Hama Salih, a parliamentarian from the Movement for Change, or Gorran, told his party’s media outlet that the KRG’s Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs has one of the largest numbers of ghost employees. Official KRG estimates put the number of peshmerga at around 190,000 to 250,000, but some officials say it is in fact far lower. It is not uncommon for senior peshmerga officials to receive promotions on the basis of their loyalty to one of the rival parties instead of their military prowess.” According to the piece “12 out of 36 brigades have been unified under the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs.” This was despite the fact that KRG President Massoud Barzani had encouraged Peshmerga Minister Mustafa Said Qader to speed up the integration. A research carried out by Gorran when it ran the ministry found that of some 400,000 men who had served as Peshmerga, only 40,000 were directly under the unified command. Others were divided between the PUK’s 70th Division and KDP’s 80th Division, along with a series of small minority units and other groups.  The point became moot in October 2015 when Gorran was ejected from the ministry during a government shakeup.

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The situation on October 12th, 2017 (ISIS live ua map)

The failure of the Peshmerga to create a unified command structure by the eve of the Kirkuk crises in October 2017 likely contributed to its inability to respond to the Iraqi forces. It also allowed for conflicting orders to be sent to frontline units holding the 40km of frontline near Kirkuk.

Holding the line The overall picture of which Peshmerga held which piece of the line on the eve of the attack is not entirely clear. The frontline west of Kirkuk and near Dibs was held by Kemal Kirkuki’s allied forces which included members of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), a unit of Kurds from Iran under the command of Hussein Yazdanpanah. There were also PUK bases there.

Further south along the line were PUK Peshmerga. In and around Kirkuk, as would become clear during the short clashes on October 16th, there were some members of the PKK and PUK politicians such as Kosrat Rasul and governor Najmaldin Karim who sought to resist the advance.

Kurdish forces south of Kirkuk between Taza and Daquq had been near the frontline with ISIS for three years. They had fought hard in 2015 to regain these areas and formed local minority Kakei into a brigade of fighters in Daquq district. They continued to suffer attacks from ISIS, in October 2016 and July 2017. Peshmerga also had contacts with the Hashd al-Shaabi (PMU, Shia militias) in these areas and had local agreements to jointly deal with villages such as Bashir.

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Iraq forces on the way to the Kirkuk front

Contrast of forces after Hawija offensive Iraqi units that were veterans of tough battles in Mosul and other Iraqi cities easily conquered Tal Afar in August and then Hawija in late September. They arrived at the outskirts of Kirkuk battle hardened and ready on October 8th. Although Peshmerga commanders and politicians had wanted to take part in Hawija the referendum had caused a rift and the Peshmerga did not participate. The Peshmerga had boosted local forces in Kirkuk on the eve of the referendum. Reuters wrote on Sept. 20 “Some non-Kurds fear Baghdad will attempt to regain control of Kirkuk and send in Shi‘ite militias (PMU), also known as the Hashid al-Shaabi, stationed just outside the province.” After the referendum the Iraqi parliament demanded that troops be sent to re-take Kirkuk. Kurdish leaders were in high spirits however, they often referenced that the Iraqi army had “run away” from Kirkuk in 2014, and Peshmerga had saved the city.

There had been clashes with Iraqi forces before. In 2016 Peshmerga faced off against local units of the PMU in Tuz Khurmatu. This was before the PMU was officially incorporated into the Iraqi Security Forces. Sayyid Mohammed al-Musawi, of the Turkmen 16th brigade of the PMU told Adam Lucente in the weeks before October 16th that although he opposed the referendum he did not see conflict coming. The Kurdish forces were lured into a false sense of security in the lead up to the attack. Coalition statements indicated that the movement of Iraqi forces was “natural” and Maj Gen. Pat White of the coalition tweeted he had “zero proof” of threats to Kurds. Yet artillery photographed being moved from Hawija on October 12th was likely headed to the Kirkuk frontline.

The Iraq army took no chances in the operation to take Kirkuk. It assembled its best units for the power-play. These included the Counterterrorism Services (CTS) or “golden division”, the Federal Police who come under the Badr-controlled Interior ministry, the 9th armored division, the 16th infantry, and Rapid Response Force (ERD). The PMU fielded an impressive array as well, including the 16th Turkmen brigade, and units from Asai’b Ahl al-Haq (the 41, 42 and 43rd brigades). These were armed with a vast array of weapons, including some of Iraq’s more than 140 M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, and thousands of Humvees (HMMWVs). Many of these Iraqis had been trained by the US over the last three years in a program that has fielded almost 70,000 Iraqi security forces fighters outfitted by the US or by partner countries with an assortment of new weapons, vehicles, artillery and rifles such as the Croatian VHS.

By contrast the Kurdish Peshmerga had around 20,000 men trained by the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center. According to the coalition they had been issued with M-16, M2 .50 cal., M240B 7.62.mm, and M249’s, 5.56mm machine guns, sniper rifles, 60mm, 120mm mortars and AT-4, Panzerfaust, and Milan anti-tank weapons. They also had MK-19 automatic grenade launchers. Besides the aging tanks, such as T-72s and T-55s, it has at least 50 new MRAPs and 80 new HMMVWs provided by the coalition in 2015-2016. It also has a bunch of other diverse armored vehicles and artillery captured from or abandoned by Iraqi forces over the years, including M1117s and towed AA guns. Some of these are mounted on trucks as “technicals” with a heavy machine gun in the back. Peshmerga in the field often have an array of weapons, often purchased by themselves, including Ak-47s and other rifles supplied by the coalition such as German G3s.

The Peshmerga had predicted before October 16th that a conflict was coming with the Hashd al-Shaabi. That was the force they expected to meet. A force that had superior equipment but was more matched to what the Peshmerga could bring to bear. It was also a force that, for the most part, was not outfitted and trained by the Americans. Unlike the Peshmerga the PMU had been fighting a war of movement and urban fighting over the last years and it had become used to complex operations. The Peshmerga commanders I spoke to before October 15th believed that in any conflict with the Iraqi forces that they could hold off the PMU as long as it lacked air power. They also expected clashes to be local, such as had happened in Tuz the year before. Instead the Iraqis were preparing to unleash the same group of forces that had been used in Hawija and Tal Afar, except without air power.

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Kurds rally in Kirkuk on the night of October 14-15 (screenshot)

The withdrawal before the withdrawal The lead up to the battle on October 16th was one of high tension. On the night of October 12 the Kurdistan Region Security Council warned that there was a threat of Iraqi forces moving toward the frontline. Erbil said that more than 6,000 Peshmerga were sent to the Kirkuk area. The morning of October 13th dawned with the discovery that Peshmerga forces had suddenly withdrawn from areas near Bashir village and Taza, just 10 kilometers from Kirkuk. Sheikh Jaafar Mustafa, head of 70th division of Peshmerga, said it had been done after the PMU demanded the Peshmerga withdraw. Conflicting reports seemed to indicate it was also to allow the Peshmerga to dig in to better defensive positions.

In retrospect the reports set the stage for what was to happen next. “Iraqi Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji confirmed Friday that Iraqi forces want to redeploy to where they were before the rise of ISIS in 2014. That includes much of the areas the Peshmerga took from ISIS near Kirkuk and in Nineveh.” There was an ultimatum to withdraw, extended from the 15th to 16th at 2am.

Bafel Talabani told France24 several days after Kirkuk fell that “we were faced with insurmountable odds and a vastly superior enemy. He says that the PUK military leadership “decided to make a tactical withdrawal after a lot of fighting which has cost us almost 100 men and dozens of wounded.” he said that rather than suffer thousands of casualties and fight inside Kirkuk city, they chose to “retreat strategically.” He said that there were negotiations with the Iraqis and that “rather than Iraqi troops unilaterally” deploying to K-1 base, that the base would be a “hub” for the coalition and Iraqi troops. This deal would have prevented the catastrophe” of the fall of Kirkuk. Eli Lake at Bloomberg confirms some of these pre-October 16 negotiations. “These officials tell me that the [U.S. special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, Brett] McGurk compromise would wrest Kurdish control of a military air base outside of Kirkuk known as K-1, where many U.S. special operators are currently stationed.”

According to Lake the Kurdish leaders from KDP and PUK met at lake Dukan on Saturday October 14th to discuss the deal. The Kurdish leadership could not agree, McGurk asked for more time but by the 15th Iran’s Soleimani and members of the PUK had settled on a separate agreement.

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The day of the non-battle The battle for Kirkuk began on October 16th after 2 in the morning when Iraqi forces began to try to push toward Kirkuk. Reports say that around five Iraqi humvees were destroyed in fighting. The US coalition labelled this a “misunderstanding” due to low visibility. Sheik Jaafar of the PUK was photographed at the K-1 base that night relaxing with his men. Although he is often said to command 50,000 Peshmerga, it is not clear how many were deployed. KRG Vice-President Kosrat Rasul’s men were at the frontline and attempted to prevent the Iraqi advance. One of his officers later told media “we were fighting three countries with limited ammunition.”

The general picture in the early morning hours of October 16th is one of chaos and conflicting orders and rumors. Peshmerga commanders told media that they had been abandoned. Others claimed some units had left positions that were then filled by men loyal to those such as Rasul (Rasol) who wanted to resist. Sources close to the KDP said many PUK peshmerga withdrew.

Ben Alexander told MilitaryTimes that the attack was spearheaded by Abrams tanks. “You can’t take out an Abrams with anything they have over here. The Peshmerga don’t make IEDs [improvised explosive device] or VBIEDs [vehicle borne IEDs], so they’re shit out of luck for Abrams.” They moved towards the west of Kirkuk to capture the K-1 base. “Shortly after rockets were hitting both sides along with Abrams rounds hitting the Peshmerga position in the industrial area of western Kirkuk…The Peshmerga commander and second in charge of that position were both killed, so the line crumbled.” Alexander told MilitaryTimes.

Another man serving with the Peshmerg wrote that “Many departments have left their posts, without fighting other police units, instead have refused order, in total chaos and chaos Kirkuk fell yesterday afternoon, under the attack of tanks and light infantry…We have tried to keep the lines to the north, but after repeated attempts we have had to exfiltrate many of the dead peshmerga and several injured, with few ammunition, after falling within our base, with the last remaining group of my unit we have opted to regroup.” He wrote “We were attacked with heavy weapons and rockets and artillery and surrounded, we held positions as far as possible, I and few others were able to organize a desperate evacuation of the few survivors inside the base before the forces forces took control of it.” Another man recalled that officers “left their men to die…We had 0 [zero] notice of pulling back.” As he fled with his men he says the checkpoints had all been abandoned northwest of the city. “There wasn’t a single person manning the checkpoints and this was far past Dibs as well.”

Residents in the city tried to resist with small arms fire. Video shows them begging Peshmerga not to leave, as armored vehicles roar away. “As some of Peshmerga units of PUK were ordered to leave, the volunteers blocked the roads and tried to force them to stay,” recalls a resident. Some Peshmerga “refused the order and decided to pick up arms and stay on fronts. Later volunteers picked up arms and provided passage for all the citizens to escape, they managed to fight for quite some time against American Abrams and Humvees driven by Shia militias of Iran.” Some members of the PKK were photographed in the city, defending a bridge and clashing with the Iraq forces. Eventually they too fled with his family in an eight hour long traffic jam of traffic heading for Chamchamal.

Overall tens of thousands of Peshmerga and some 50,000 people fled the city. Eventually more than 100,000 would flee. A video posted to Facebook shows some of the Peshmerga who were killed. The number appears to be about 50 in the photos. Iraqi social media accounts celebrated what they called a victory over “PKK terrorists” and “Barzani militia.”

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Mahmudiyah on the Rabiah road where the Peshmerga dug in

October 17th-21st The withdrawal continues

After the fall of Kirkuk and the chaos of October 16th the withdrawal continued the next day and into the following days. For the PUK that meant returning toward borders controlled in 2003, moving toward Chamchamal. According to various sources the PUk withdraw beyond Bani Maqam on that road and also toward Koya near the old border at Taq Taq, site of an oil field.

Peshmerga also withdrew on the 17th from areas around Makhmour, Bashiqa and Khanaquin on the Iranian border. All of this appears to have been done without clashes and sometimes ahead of the PMU or Iraqi forces. The question as to what the Peshmerga were doing and why has not been answered. Although some reports claimed this was a withdrawal to 2014 lines, the reality is that it was often far beyond those lines. Some of these areas had been disputed back to 2003.

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Withdrawals  on October 17th

In Sinjar the decision to withdraw was not taken lightly. Around midnight on October 16th some of the Peshmerga reported ultimatums to withdraw by 2am. They were not aware of the discussions at command level. According to sources the commanders in Sinjar spoke with local Yazidi peshmerga about how to withdraw. Some thought they might go into the mountains or withdraw over the mountain from Sinjar city to Snune. However Yazidi leaders said that they didn’t want to have to fight other Yazidis who are members of the PMU. In the end the decision was made to withdraw all the way to Rabiah and beyond. Overnight the Peshmerga who had held these positions since 2015 began to pack up their bases and leave. Yazidi peshmerga mostly stayed behind, but the thousand or so men from the Rojava Peshmerga left their checkpoints. Those checkpoints in Snune were taken over by the YBS, the local PKK affiliate. KDP posters were removed. Haydar Shesho’s HPE forces occupied the Sherfedin shrine and other areas after he agreed to work with the Iraqis. As the Peshmerga had done near Daquq, they set fire to at least one of their bases.

On October 18th there were questions about whether Peshmerga would withdraw through Sheikhan and from Al-Qosh.

There were clashes at Mosul dam where a PMU commander was killed and also in Rabiah where the SDF in Syria exchanged fire with Iraqi forces. Peshmerga forces paused in Mahmudiyah where they clashed with with the PMU. According to a source on the frontline the Peshmerga destroyed several PMU vehicles. Kurdistan 24 said that on October 23-24 renewed clashes resulted in two more PMU vehicles being damaged. In all, large areas were abandoned quickly and often without violence. The few clashes at Mosul Dam or Mahmudiyah reflected lack of coordination or the speed of advance of the PMU and some Iraqi units from the 15th infantry in the vicinity. However generally the pattern reflects a decision by both sides not to exchange fire and the Iraqi forces have no pushed the advances. The only place that they did push the advance and met with stiff resistance was in Altun Kupri (Pirde), a Turkmen village on the Kiruk-Erbil road.

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The Iraqi offensive on October 20th, 2017 at Altun Kupri

October 20th: The battle of Altun Kupri:

The only serious clash between Iraqi forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga occurred on October 20th near a town called Altun Kopru. The battle is better documented than other clashes because of the presence of several people who took photos, video and also wrote accounts of it. Nabih Bulos, a writer for the Los Angeles Times was at the town when it began in the morning. He reported mortars and machine gun fire, Kurdish reinforcements rushing forward and then pulling back. He showed a photo of one Kurdish artillery piece and noted one Kurdish vehicle hit. He also said Peshmerga told him they were attacked by the PMU and ISOF. Coalition helicopters were also spotted, but didn’t intervene. A Kurdish television channel from Suli also showed a line of Iraqi artillery, the same kinds of howitzers used in battle for Hawija, likely the M198.

One of the participants in the battle says that the early clashes began on the 19th when positions held by PAK and other Peshmerga were attacked. These units had originally been in Dibs but moved north to a village called Kitka. A small clash resulted in the destruction of one PMU humvee.

On October 20th the same units came under a major attack by tank and artillery fire at 06:00 and the Peshmerga retreated through the town to positions beyond it in a row of hills. According to the participant and video, the new position included a berm and was near an abandoned checkpoint. Mortars and artillery fell on their position and the participant says they were fired at by Katyushas. There were almost no reinforcements for the Peshmerga, only three armored vehicles. However Kemal Kirkuki, whose base had been in Dibs, and Hussein Yazdanpanah, the commander of PAK, helped hold the position. The participant says the PMU “launched well over 500 rounds of mortars, missiles, artillery and katyusha at the highway positions alone.”

Footage of the battle shows that other armored vehicle reinforcements did come and it shows firing at the Iraqi positions. There are also photos of Peshmerga holding Panzerfaust 3 and accusations that they used Milan against Iraqi forces. There are disputes about whether an Abrams tank was destroyed. KR Security Council footage seems to indicate a tank was destroyed.

The Peshmerga claimed the 12 hours of battle left 150 casualties among the Iraqi forces while 6 Peshmerga were killed. Many other Peshmerga were wounded.

Conclusions The battle of Altun Kupri illustrated both sides tactics. The Kurds have become used to erected berms and static positions. The Iraqi forces have become used to a war of movement using overwhelming firepower and their western-supplied artillery and army. Although Kurdish forces held the heights around Altun Kupri it is not clear if the Iraqis sought to advance beyond the town. It is clear that when they sought to take Dibs, Kitka and the town itself, they had no problem doing so and that the Peshmerga could not withstand the firepower.  However most Peshmerga units, such as the elite Zerevani, were held in reserve and only very limited forces were committed. This illustrates that the Peshmerga high command, after the shock of losing Kirkuk, has decided that its forces are best employed to defend Erbil of Dohuk. Only limited forces have been sent to the front.

Overall the Peshmerga have not sought to challenge most of the advances of the Iraqi forces and it is not clear if those places they have sought to check the Iraqi advance, if the Iraqi forces have sought to challenge them. Once the PMU and others encounter stiff resistance they have stopped. This presents a difficult picture to draw conclusions from because it appears there has been no battle where both forces sought to commit to taking an objective. It appears more a kind of squaring off, two forces wondering where the next blow might come and where to stand, than a war. This is because it is not a war. There was an agreement, however misunderstand and unclear, for Peshmerga to withdraw from areas around Kirkuk. There was a demand by Baghdad to leave certain areas. What is unclear is where the line is, whether it is the October 2016 line or June 2014 line or the 2003 line or some other.

In general the Iraqi forces have shown that they can execute large and complex maneuvers quickly. This has presented the Peshmerga with such overwhelming odds that there is a sort of fait accompli. As the Sun Tzu maxim says “every battle is won before it’s ever fought.” The question is whether the retreats of the Peshmerga have tarnished their image, and whether it has been regained a bit at Altun Kupri? Was the “tactical” or “strategic” withdrawal a good move for the KRG, or a disaster? Was it a kind of collapse, like that which befell France in 1940, or something else? It has given up areas that almost 2,000 Peshmerga died fighting for in the last years, including many hard won battles on the way to Sinjar, and at Makhmur and Bashiqa. It has given up a major city that was the center of Kurdish aspirations for generations. It has not sought to prepare for the battles either. It didn’t fortify or try to use terrain to its advantage. ISIS, for instance, held Mosul for 9 months against the Iraqi army and US-led coalition aircraft. The Peshmerga couldn’t hold Kirkuk for nine hours against the same Iraqi forces without their airpower. One can ascribe this to not wanting to harm the city with battles, but there has often been almost no attempt to prepare other positions for defense against the enemy that many Peshmerga knew they would face on day.

There appears to have been a lack of clear orders from command and often confusing statements or lack of information passed to frontline commanders and junior officers. There was no clear plans to move to secondary defensive positions or plans for withdrawal. Many Kurds who want to join the fight have also been left confused about whether these current frontlines will be held and if they should go. The next step for Baghdad is unclear. While the coalition appears to have temporarily halted most training at the KTCC, the Germans have announced they will continue. Although the coalition wants to continue the battle against ISIS in Anbar province, the distraction around Kirkuk has led to many of the best Iraqi units being deployed there.

The battles around Kirkuk are the first in what is becoming post-ISIS Iraq and they have re-drawn relations between the KRG and Baghdad. The losses Iraq suffered in 2014, abandoned its equipment and one third of the country, has now been reversed and it feels empowered. The clashes with the Peshmerga have emboldened it more. Iran and its Shia militias have also been emboldened. This has ramifications for the region.

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Update October 24th clashes On October 24th Iraqi forces attempted to make headway in three small attacks at Mahmudiyah on the Rabiah-FaishKhabur road, at Telskuf and at Makhmur. At Makhmur Peshmerga withstood the assault and captured several vehicles supplied by the US to Iraq’s 16th infantry. Some Iraqi soldiers were wounded and reports said some killed. Video showed the Iraqis collecting their wounded. Reports indicated up to 20 Iraqis were detained. The humvee, although its logo says 16th division, had a green religious flag attached to it. Kurdish media labelled the attackers “Hashd al-Shaabi.” According to Kurdistan24; “Peshmerga have destroyed two armored Badger vehicles and a Humvee used by the militia,” said Peshmerga Commander Mansour Barzani at Makmour.

The attacks at Mahmudiya began in the morning. Hasdh al-Shaabi media (@alhashd_media) showed men smoking nargillah and awaiting orders to attack toward Faishkhabur. According to a source there some of the men facing them were from a unit called “Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba.”

Later in the day shelling by Iraqi forces started at TelSkof. This was after some sort of a misunderstanding between Kurdish forces and Iraqi forces with the Iraqis demanding the Peshmerga withdraw. Clashes took place and hundreds of people fled TelSkuf toward Al-Qosh and Dohuk.

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October 24 clashes

The clashes on the 24th and the ability of the Peshmerga to hold illustrate that the Peshmerga have chosen to hold ground and that the Iraqi advances of the first week of conflict have slowed. This is likely due to the composition of Iraqi forces. Now that the new frontline is 1,000 kilometers long the Iraqi forces are spread out and the units they have committed to battles in Makhmur, TalSkuf and Mahmudiya are not the elite units they sent in to Kirkuk. The 16th infantry for instance is an example of this issue. Iraq is not able to rely on the same number of forces and the forces it uses have lower morale and they are fighting Kurdish peshmerga who are defending their home ground for the first time. Here the match-up of forces begins to look more equal, with both sides using tehnicals and humvees. In such conditions the Peshmerga on the defensive have some of the advantages they had over ISIS once ISIS initial advances had been blunted. Iraq is also holding back most of its firepower, such as its missile batteries, artillery, planes and helicopters. The clashes look like local initiatives by commanders to test the Peshmerga resolve. Although Iraq would like to penetrate to Faishkhabur and cut the KRG off from the Syrian border, it is unclear if the whole government is committed to this or if the local PMUs with orders from their own command structure are initiating contact. Peshmerga claimed to have found Turkish IDs among some of the Iraqis the died fighting on October 24th, which may complicate the image of what happened that day. Peshmerga also have seasoned frontline commanders at their locations, including General Hussein Yazdanpanah at Pirde and General Hakar Mohsen holding Mahmudiyah. Both of these are fighting officers who have served for three years in hot spots against ISIS, and they are commanding from the front. The disorganization of the first days of the clashes, where officers seemed to melt away and local units were left to fend for themselves and withdraw, has changed.

*** Update October 26 ***

On October 24-25 the US embassy helped broker a ceasefire near Telskop after numerous Christians fled fighting.

Iraq forces, including PMU units of the Badr Brigade (andBadr Corp, Al-Abbas Brigade, Kataib Jund Al-Imam and Raad Al-Saree’ Division, a list was posted by Albather Altamimi) and ERD, launch attacks from Zummar and Rabiah on Peshmerga positions. In the early morning some Peshmerga were captured but stiff resistance to the attempt to reach Faysh .Khabur blunted the attack. Estimates of those killed included a dozen on the Peshmerga side and similar or more on the Iraqi side. Peshmerga sources accused the Iraqis of deceiving the coalition by sending units to fight in an anti-ISIS offensive in Qaim, only to siphon off some for the operations near Rabiah. Muhandis and Amiri were both said to be involved in the offensive, with Amiri in Zummar and Muhandis in Rabiah. Michael Knights wrote on Twitter that the Iraqi forces include 9th and 16th divisions and Federal Police. On the Kurdish side Rojava Peshmerga are some of the fighters at the front. A source close to General Hakar, the Peshmerga commander, says that officer Wahid Bakoz (Wahid Bakozi,), a former commander of Shingal from the KDP, was killed in the fighting. Iraqi vehicles were photographed destroyed, sources said at least a humvee, and three other armored vehicles.

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Map of October 26 clashes

More than 166,000 people have become IDPs due to the fighting according to KRG. This includes many refugees from Zumar and other areas as well as Kirkuk. Journalist Judit Neurink said she ran into families fleeing fighting on the Zakho road on October 26.

Clashes took place in Makhmur and Pirde, in Makhmur there were rumors of Peshmerga advances. Those on frontline at Pirde (Altun Kurpu) said that the Iraqi forces kept heavy weapons in the town and had concealed and dug them in.












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