Kurdish and Iraqi forces and militias clash in northern Iraq

Video showing Iraqi military and PMU forces near the town of Faysh Khabur

Earlier in the day, Iraqi forces backed by Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) launched an offensive in Zummar district in northern Ninewa Governorate, at the same time as they launched a offensive on Islamic State positions near the border town of al-Qaim. A reliable number of victims has not yet been given, but heavy fighting and shelling were reported by both sides.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) tweeted this morning that “Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization units launched an unprovoked four-pronged assault on peshmerga positions in northwest Mosul”. The statement also claims that three tanks, five US-made Humvees and one armored personnel carrier have so far been destroyed by Kurdish forces. Simultaneously, clashes between peshmerga and PMU forces were reported near the town of Faysh Khabur near the border with Syria.

An Iraqi official talk to Al Hayat confirmed the clashes took place, adding that they “resulted in a number of peshmerga deaths and injuries”. Rudaw, a Kurdish news site, reported at least one peshmerga commander was killed by a bombardment near Zummar, while relaying that Peshmerga forces also destroyed an American Abrams tank. PMU strengths would also have captured the town of Makhmour in Erbil after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces, but this remains to be confirmed.

The KRSC statement said the PMU forces involved in the operations included the Badr Organization, Kata’ib Imam Ali and Harakat al Nujaba. All three are key Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) proxies in the region. Social media pages affiliated with Badr and Kata’ib Imam Ali confirmed that they were each involved in the clashes. However, most news is spread by pages and individuals linked to Badr.

Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the deputy head of the PMU, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr organization, as well as two senior IRGC advisers, were reportedly spotted in the area. A video uploaded to a pro-Iraqi military Twitter account also claims to show Muhandis in the area earlier today.

An affiliate page gave an overview of where Badr units are deployed in the offensive. According to the Facebook page, three of its brigades – the 3rd, 5th and 10th – are sent to the Faysh Khabur region, while the 4th brigade is sent to the borders with the Erbil region in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This is not the first time that Iraqi forces, the PMUs and the peshmergas have clashed in recent days. Last week, violent clashes were also reported in Kirkuk governorate. These skirmishes came after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi ordered his forces to enter the governorate cover several key areas. clashes were also reported late last month between members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Peshmerga forces and Kata’ib Imam Ali near Sinjar.

Recent skirmishes between Iraqi and Kurdish forces have been linked to the Kurdish independence referendum, which the Kurdistan Regional Government recently announced that it would freeze the results because of the fighting in northern Iraq. The Kurdish announcement does not seem to have deterred Iraqi forces from continuing to retake areas formerly held by the Kurds.

Iraqi forces shelling peshmerga locations, originally uploaded by a Badr-linked Facebook page:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cO4aRmoOho

Another video (graphic) of Faysh Khabur:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEDqvEj7H1c

Video showing Iraqi forces in Makhmour, Erbil:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1xrECo0mzI

Video showing Kurdish forces in Makhmour:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knveVy7GfWQ

Caleb Weiss is a contributor to the FDD’s Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of Islamic State in Central Africa.

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Key words: Badr, Faysh Khabur, Iraq, Kata’ib Imam Ali, KRG, Kurds, Peshmerga, PMU, Zummar

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