BEIRUT - Top Iranian military leader General Qassem Soleimani has allegedly requested the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to participate in the ongoing campaign to defeat ISIS in Mosul, according to a local Kurdish media outlet in northern Iraq.
Bas News reported Tuesday that the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force met in “recent days” with high-ranking PKK official Cemil Bayik in Sulaymaniyah, a city in the east of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq.
A “well-informed military source” in the city told Bas News that Soleimani asked Bayik for the PKK’s fighters and affiliates in the Yazidi-populated Sinjar region to take part in the offensive against ISIS in Mosul.
In return for its role in the Mosul battle, Iran will support the PKK with “arms and weapons,” the source claimed Soleimani told Bayik, the former military leader of the Kurdish separatist group and its pointman on relations with Tehran.
The PKK and its local Yazidi affiliate, the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), have repeatedly voiced their willingness to take part in operations around Mosul, however the KRG, especially the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, has rejected any such participation.
Meanwhile Turkey, which views the PKK as a terrorist organization, has said it would oppose the group moving toward Mosul, while Washington, for its part, also announced it would not accept PKK participation.
The Sinjar region, which is located a little over 100 kilometers west of Mosul, has become a flashpoint front for inter-Kurdish rivalries amid reports Tehran aims to exert influence over the strategic region along Iraq’s border with Syria.
The KRG considers Sinjar to be under its administrative control; however the rival PKK does not want Barzani’s KDP to exert its influence over Sinjar, which the latter effectively controlled prior to ISIS’s lightning 2014 advance.
Following the collapse of ISIS lines, PKK-backed Yazidi officials in Sinjar met to form an autonomous administrative council in January 2015, a move blasted by KRG as allowing Syrian Kurds to expand their authority into Iraq.
Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces in the fall of 2014 helped relieve the ISIS siege on Yazidi civilians in Sinjar Mountain, but KRG forces led by Barzani have taken the lead role in subsequent offensives that forced ISIS out.
According to Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, a political analyst and journalist specializing in Kurds, “the PKK is much weaker in Sinjar than [Barzani’s forces], although it is stronger in the area close to the Syrian border.”
In March 2016, Kurdistan Freedom Party military commander Hossein Yazdanpah claimed that Soleimani toured Sinjar in the beginning of the year alongside Hadi al-Ameri, a leader in the Tehran-backed Iraqi paramilitary Popular Mobilization Forces.
“The visit comes amid Iran’s ongoing attempt to control the ground route connecting Iran and Syria that stretches across the Kurdistan region’s territory, and to secure a passageway for weapons and fighters in Syria,” Yazdandah—a harsh critic of Tehran—told Saudi-owned Asharq Alawsat.
“Iran wants to take control of the strategic Sinjar Mountain,” he said, adding that a number of other IRGC officers had traveled to the Yazidi-populated area via Baghdad.
NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report.