Iraqi forces took Kirkuk city from the Kurds this week with hardly a shot fired. Twenty-two Kurdish fighters were killed in the sporadic and disorganized resistance, while seven Iraqi soldiers also lost their lives. It is a remarkable setback for the Kurds, who just a few weeks ago held an independence referendum. The loss of Kirkuk especially, given the city's vast oil resources, lessens the likelihood that an independent state will emerge from the Kurdish Regional Government area in northern Iraq.
Now the Iraqi forces are rolling into other areas conquered by the Kurdish Regional Government in the course of the war against ISIS, including Sinjar city, close to the border with Syria. Meanwhile, an exodus of Kurdish civilians is streaming in the direction of Erbil & Suleymaniya cities. Kurdish forces are withdrawing from the areas of Makhmur and Khanaqin as well. Yezidi civilians, who bore the brunt of the ISIS assault in the summer of 2014, are again uncertain of their fates as they wait for the arrival of Iraqi forces.
The capture of Kirkuk recalls other swift and decisive assertions of control that the Middle East has witnessed in recent years. Perhaps the closest parallel might be the Hezbollah takeover of west Beirut in May-June 2008. Then, too, a pro-Western element (the March 14 movement) sought to assert its sovereignty and independent decision-making capabilities. It had many friends in the West who overestimated its strength and capacity to resist pressure. & in the Lebanese case as well, a sudden, forceful move by an Iranian client swiftly (and, it seems, permanently) reset the balance of power, demonstrating to the pro-Western element that it was subordinate and that further resistance would be fruitless.
As in Lebanon in 2008, a sudden, forceful move by an Iranian client has swiftly reset the balance of power.
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