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ISIS Regroups in Kirkuk as Questions Surround Iran’s Plans | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Members of the Kurdish security forces stand at a checkpoint during an intensive security deployment on the outskirts of Kirkuk. (Reuters)

Erbil – Although Iraqi forces are close to ending the battle to liberate Mosul and eliminating ISIS militarily in Iraq, some areas in the Kirkuk province, Hamrin Basin and the outskirts of the Tuz Khurmatu district have recently witnessed intense ISIS movements.

The terrorists’ numbers have increased dramatically despite the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) military bases not far from these areas, raising questions about Tehran’s plans in the region.

“The Iranian regime wants to disrupt the referendum process on the independence of Kurdistan through ISIS’s control over Kirkuk,” Kurdish security sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The referendum is due to be held in September and the Kurdish leadership wants it to take place in disputed areas, like Kirkuk.

Sources added that Iran wants Kirkuk to be controlled by the Popular Mobilization Forces under the pretext of liberating it from ISIS. They noted that Iranian ambassador to Iraq Irj Musjidi, who is one of the leaders of Guards’ Quds Force, is supervising the implementation of the plan.

For his part, commander of the military wing of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) in Iran Hussein Yazdan Banna told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian regime, through the IRGC and Musjidi, is overseeing the implementation of a plan by ISIS in the district of Hawija, a province of Kirkuk that is under the control of the terrorists.

The plan, Banna said, is to launch a large-scale attack on Kirkuk and occupy it or occupying a strategic area close to it to give the Popular Mobilization Forces an excuse to mobilize and send large numbers of its armed forces to Kirkuk under the pretext of liberating and protecting it.

This will achieve the Iranian goal of separating Kirkuk from Kurdistan, preventing it from participating in the referendum and disrupting the referendum altogether.

Banna pointed out that Hawija, Hamrin Basin and the Tuz Khurmatu district on the western and southern sides of the province of Kirkuk, have been witnessing intense movements by ISIS, which launched in the past weeks many attacks on Peshmerga forces positions.