As Israel's war on Gaza escalates, Iraqi Kurdish groups remain notably silent

As Israel's war on Gaza escalates, Iraqi Kurdish groups remain notably silent
The New Arab reached out to KRG's spokesperson, the head of the KRG foreign relations office, the leader of the KRP's diwan and the spokesperson of the three ruling parties, but all did not answer requests for comments about Israel's new war on Gaza.
4 min read
11 October, 2023
Iraqis Kurds carry the Kurdish and the Israeli flags in the streets of the northern city of Kirkuk on 25 September 2017 following a referendum on the independence. [Getty]

As the Iraqi leaders intensify their diplomatic efforts to end the Israeli indiscriminate aggression on Gaza, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq keeps a gloomy silence on the ongoing war. 

The Iraqi federal government has expressed its "full support" for Palestine since the start of the conflict between Israel and Palestinian fighters in Gaza, which has seen hundreds killed on both sides. 

However, the caretaker Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the Kurdistan Region's Presidency (KRP), and the Kurdish ruling parties have yet to articulate any formal stance regarding the war and its potential to destabilise the whole region.  

 The New Arab reached out to the KRG spokesperson, the head of the KRG foreign relations office, the leader of the KRP's diwan, and the spokesperson of the three ruling parties in the KRG, but all did not answer requests for comments.

Three main ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Change Movement (Gorran), have formed a fragile alliance since 2018 to form the current KRG cabinet headed by PM Masrour Barzani from the KDP.

Although the KRG has no official ties with Israel, The Financial Times reported in 2015 that Israeli refineries and oil companies imported more than 19m barrels of oil from the Kurdistan region. 

The majority of Kurds voted for independence from Iraq, held on 25 September 2017, and  Israel supports the establishment of a Kurdish state, according to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's statements before the controversial referendum for independence from Iraq. 

The KRG's silence might relate to wanting to remain neutral and not upset the United States, which pays monthly salaries to nearly 30,000 KRG Peshmerga fighters in 13 brigades. The US has provided military and financial aid, as well as training, to Peshmerga forces since 2014.

The KRG sees a broad division between the ruling parties and a choking financial crisis after it could not export its oil independently from Baghdad to Turkey since March. Ankara stopped 450,000 bpd of exports from the Kurdish region on 25 March after an international tribunal ruled in a nine-year-old dispute that Baghdad was right to insist on overseeing all Iraqi oil exports.

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Meanwhile, on Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani met with Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of his official visit to Moscow.

 "During the meeting, various regional and international matters of shared interest were reviewed, and the two leaders discussed the concerning developments unfolding in the occupied Palestinian territories," said a statement by Iraq's State News Agency (INA).

"The Prime Minister reiterated Iraq's unwavering stance on the Palestinian cause, emphasising Iraq's support for the Palestinian people's rightful aspirations to live in dignity and have justice, calling on Russia to work with the UN Security Council's permanent members to promptly address and stop the ongoing attacks in Palestinian territories," it added.

Relatively, Iraqis in Anbar, Nineveh, and Kirkuk provinces held demonstrations raising banners of condemnation of the Israeli aggressions on Gaza and calling for support of the Palestinians. Demonstrators in Diyala province waved the Palestinian flag and burnt the Israel flag. 

For his part, prominent Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for a "one million people protest" to take place this Friday to support Gaza's people.

On Monday, the leader of Al-Fateh Alliance, a prominent figure in the ruling "Coordinating Framework" in Iraq, Hadi al-Amiri, threatened to target American interests if they intervened in the war on Gaza.

Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which are seen as a close ally to Iran, has announced its "full support" for the resistance in Gaza, but it did not clarify whether they would include the possibility, let alone capability, to send forces to fight along with Al-Qassam Brigades against Israel.

PMF heavily armed militants have posted videos on social media platforms vowing to defend the fight against the Israelis and defend Al-Quds. However, many Iraqi social media users considered those moves as mere propaganda and not realistic. 

The Iraqi parliament in May 2022 unanimously passed a law criminalising any form of normalisation with Israel.