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.
The Islamic State group is trying to retake control of the oil fields it lost two years ago in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan by launching rockets at Kurdish and Iraqi soldiers. In an attempt to earn back the massive amount of cash it used to fund its international terrorism in 2014, the group has focused its resources on attacking Makhmur, a city just 75 miles miles from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. So far, the group, also known as ISIS, has succeeded in outgunning the Iraqi forces in the city, but a new contingent of American Marines might change the outcome on the ground. "Several weeks ago, thousands of Iraqi troops began occupying a tactical assembly area in Makhmur. This is part of the force generation associated with the liberation of Mosul," Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, said in a press briefing this week.
US relations with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq took a major blow in recent weeks. In the aftermath of the Kurdish referendum for independence, Iraq's security forces, alongside the Shia militias of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) launched an offensive against the Peshmerga in the disputed territory of Kirkuk, with US acquiescence. On Tuesday, these forces went as far as launching an offensive on Fish-Khabur area on the Iraq-Turkey border, where Iraqi Kurdistan's most important oil hub is located. Peshmerga forces managed to repel the attack. On Thursday there were further clashes after Baghdad deployed additional forces to the area.
BAGHDAD – Kurdish peshmerga fighters rejected a warning from an Iraqi paramilitary force to withdraw from a strategic junction south of Kirkuk that controls access to some of the region's main oilfields, a Kurdish security official said on Sunday. Iran meanwhile shut its border crossings with Iraq's Kurdistan in support of measures taken by the Iraqi government to isolate the Kurdish region, the Iraqi foreign ministry said. The border closing came as an Iranian military official arrived in Iraq's Kurdistan for talks on the growing crisis between the Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi government following last month's Kurdish independence referendum. The Baghdad central government has taken a series of steps to isolate the autonomous Kurdish region since its vote for independence, including banning international flights. Baghdad's tough line, ruling out talks sought by the Kurds unless they renounce the breakaway move, is backed by neighbors Turkey and Iran -- both with their own sizeable Kurdish minorities, and in Turkey's case, a long-running Kurdish insurgency.