ANKARA – Turkish warplanes struck suspected Kurdish rebel positions in Iraq and Syria on Tuesday, drawing condemnation from Baghdad and criticism from the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, which is allied with Kurdish factions in both countries. Syrian activists said the attack killed at least 18 members of the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, which is a close U.S. ally against IS but is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey's Kurdish rebels. The airstrikes also killed five members of the Iraqi Kurdish militia known as the peshmerga, which is also battling the extremist group with help from the U.S.-led coalition. The YPG said the strikes hit a media center, a local radio station, a communication headquarters and some military posts, killing an undetermined number of fighters in the town of Karachok, in Syria's northeastern Hassakeh province. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group that monitors all sides of the conflict, said the strikes killed 18 YPG fighters.
A letter written by the wife of Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani to the federal government in Baghdad has been leaked, triggering a media storm about a "political crisis" in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Hero Ibrahim Ahmad is now accused of plotting to block oil exports from Kirkuk, and of threatening to sell the city's oil to Iran instead. Sources close to Ibrahim Ahmad say these accusations are outlandish, and the leak - as well as the gross misrepresentation of the letter in local media - was intended as a smear campaign against the most influential female figure on the Kurdish political scene. Erbil-based news channels Rudaw and K24 both reported that Ibrahim Ahmad had asked Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for oil to be sold through Iran and that she was to blame for the delays in salary payments to civil servants and pensioners - contrary to the actual content of the letter. As her image flashed on television screens across the Middle East, her supporters claim she is being scapegoated for larger problems for which she holds little responsibility.
Despite being recently defeated from their major strongholds of Mosul and Tel Afar in Iraq, more than two years after Iraqi forces specifically sought to retake oil-rich areas from the Islamic State, its militants are continuing to steal, spill and smuggle crude oil from Iraqi oil fields as a means to wreak havoc and fund their spluttering but surviving campaign of terror. "While ISIS is steadily losing its hold on populated areas, it still controls a not-insignificant portion of territory that contains oil and oil infrastructure," Justin Dargin, global energy expert at the University of Oxford, told Fox News. "As a result, ISIS is continuing at a frantic pace to produce and smuggle as much oil as possible in a bid to acquire its ever-declining revenue base." According to Iraq's state-run North Oil Company (NOC), ISIS still controls scores of wellheads in parts of the northern Ajil field which are considered contested land between Iraq and Kurdish governments. The terror network still controls some 75 percent of the Alas Dome in the nearby and prominent Hamrin field, NOC adds.
IRBIL, IRAQ/SULAIMANIA IRAQ – Kurds voted in large numbers in an independence referendum in northern Iraq on Monday, ignoring pressure from Baghdad, threats from Turkey and Iran, and international warnings that the vote may ignite yet more regional conflict. The vote organized by Kurdish authorities is expected to deliver a comfortable "yes" for independence, but is not binding. However, it is designed to give Masoud Barzani, who heads the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a mandate to negotiate the secession of the oil-producing region. Turnout was 76 percent an hour before voting closed, the Kurdish Rudaw TV station said, later adding that vote counting had started. Final results are expected within 72 hours.