Hero Ibrahim Ahmad: Smear campaign or political crisis?

Al Jazeera

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.

Fleeing offensives, where are Islamic State's jihadis going?

The Japan Times

BEIRUT – The Islamic State group is under attack across the remaining parts of its self-proclaimed caliphate, but what happens to its thousands of fighters as their group loses grip on territory? Facing multiple offensives, the jihadi group has lost the Libyan city of Sirte, Iraq's Mosul and Ramadi, and is now on the verge of being ousted from its former Syrian hub Raqqa. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Thursday that Iraqi forces have driven the group from one of its last strongholds in the country, the northern town of Hawija. Baghdad and Iraq's Kurdish region remain in a political deadlock following a controversial Kurdish independence referendum. But on the battlefield, Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue to collaborate, squeezing the jihadis, who once controlled nearly a third of the country.

Why the Turkey-KRG alliance works, for now

Al Jazeera

Turkey's relationship with Iraq's Kurds has not been without its problems. Not so long ago Ankara refused to deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and has opposed its efforts to consolidate control in disputed oil-rich areas such as Kirkuk. Moreover, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has complicated the KRG's efforts to strengthen political and economic ties with its neighbours, all of whom have historically combated Kurdish rebellions within their own territories. There have been landmark visits and exchanges between senior-ranking Turkish and KRG officials as well as a rapid increase in trade that has seen Turkish companies flood Kurdistan's market and the building of a pipeline that enables the KRG to independently export its hydrocarbons to international markets. The shift in Turkish foreign policy towards Erbil is happening despite concerns about PKK's rebellion and Turkey's major economic and political interests in Baghdad.

Today: ISIS' Global Expansion Plan. For Trump, the Big Money Sits on the Fence.

Los Angeles Times

Here are some story lines I don't want you to miss today. Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah: Those are among the cities that a U.S.-led coalition has recently retaken from Islamic State. Baghdad, Dhaka, Istanbul, Medina: These are among the cities that have suffered terror attacks claimed by or linked to Islamic State. Terror experts say it's part of a shift in strategy by the extremists to focus less on building a caliphate and more on spreading terror worldwide. Read on to see how ISIS is putting its own twist on the Al Qaeda model.

Erdogan warns of armed action over Iraqi Kurdistan vote

Al Jazeera

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced the independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, and will not rule out a potential military action to stop efforts to usurp his country's territory. The warning came as people in the Iraqi autonomous region voted on Monday in an independence referendum, amid rising tensions and international opposition. Balloting took place in the disputed areas between the northern city of Erbil and the capital Baghdad, as well as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which is ethnically mixed. "Our armed forces are on the borders with Iraq to do whatever it takes," Erdogan said, adding that Turkey could block key oil exports of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) over the vote. "We will never allow anyone or anything to go from Turkey to Iraq.