“Is Israel really the only target addressed by this long-range missile attack, which Iran has claimed responsibility for? Is this the only angle from which this incident should be viewed?” asks Meral Çiçek in Özgür Politika.
The attack this weekend in Erbil (Hewlêr), which has regularly been a target for missiles of Iranian origin in the last two years, is unusual in many respects. There have been at least nine rocket attacks against Iraq and South Kurdistan (Başûr) since the death of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Qasim Sulaymani, but this is the first time the Revolutionary Guards have officially claimed responsibility. The second basic difference is that the attack was launched not from Iraqi territory, but from within Iran, using long-range missiles. The third point of note is the countries officially condemning the attack: the US, Germany, the UK, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen among others.
A statement issued by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards said that the target of the attack was two safe houses used by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. The semi-official Fars News Agency announced that the attack had been launched in response to “the latest crimes of the fake Zionist regime”, referring to the killing of two Revolutionary Guards in Syria last week and the Israeli attack on a drone factory in Tabriz city on 8 March. And the place where the long-range missiles were launched from is the centre of the operation in Tabriz.
It has been expressed during discussions in the Iranian press on the matter that Tehran had warned both South Kurdistan and the Iraqi authorities in relation to Israel’s activities in Erbil, that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mesut Barzani was unable to do anything about it, but that if Iran had the opportunity it would give what response it could in its own interests. Iranian sources explain that Israeli reconnaissance planes have been taking off from South Kurdistan collecting intelligence along the border line, and in particular in the region going towards Kermanshah, and warn that if they are not forestalled there will be attacks on more targets in Erbil. A statement issued by Hizbullah of Iraq on the matter said, “We confirm that the bodies of Mossad personnel have been found at these bases. These locations along with the bases of American bases and those of the Turkish occupiers will continue to be legitimate targets for the resistance in Iraq.”
It is important to recall that Iraq does not recognise the state of Israel, and according to Israel, Iraq is an enemy state. There is not even any question of diplomatic relations between the two states. The Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi went to Erbil a few days ago, and visited the farm which was the basic target of the attack, accompanied by the president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), Nechirvan Barzani. However it is reported that immediately after the incident, al-Kadhimi, who is a former head of intelligence, called President Barzani and said that Mossad’s presence in South Kurdistan was going to be investigated.
OK, so is Israel really the only target addressed by this long-range missile attack, which Iran has claimed responsibility for? Is this the only angle from which this incident should be viewed?
The territories of Iraq, Syria and Kurdistan form a multi-dimensional and multi-player battlefield in the intensifying Third World War, so this most recent attack needs to be dealt with within this framework and assessed from many different angles. First let us look at the timing.
The attempts that are underway (or rather, that have ground to a halt) to establish a government in Iraq will certainly have an effect, but I do not think this is definitive. Apart from this, regional and international factors are also fundamental. Immediately before the attack the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, that were reported to be drawing to a close, were suspended by reason of “Russia’s non-negotiable demands”. At around the same time there was a well-attended meeting between the Justice and Development Party (AKP)and the KDP at the Diplomatic Forum in Antalya. The permanent under-secretary to the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT) Hakan Fidan, who is assigned to the Iraq dossier, was also present at the meeting. It will be recalled that Fidan also took part in a meeting between President Erdoğan of Turkey and the Sunni Alliance of Iraq in February. The plan for Turkey to form a military force in regions disputed in the context of article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution was among the matters discussed in Antalya.
The region in question, which has been named Orta [middle], that is, the lands between Kurdistan and Iraq, is of strategic importance, being a kind of buffer zone. It is the region where Islamic State (ISIS) first organised itself, and it was in these areas too that the al-Hashdi al-Shadi militias [around 40 groups, mainly Shi’a, but also including Sunnis, Christians and Yazidis, who support the Iraqi government] also basically organised themselves. In autumn 2017 after the independence referendum, Turkey’s dirty plans aimed at this region, where Iraq had suppressed the will of the Kurds, were nothing new, but it is clear that they there was a desire to extend the plan in Kirkuk [when Iraqi forces retook the city from the Peshmerga] as far as Tal Afar in northwest Iraq. If were to happen, however, South Kurdistan would be completely surrounded by Turkish forces. How aware those sitting across from them in Antalya were of this is a matter for another discussion. But it is not necessary to be part of this plan to see that the Kurdistan Freedom Movement is also a target.
To return to the missile attack, the villas on the farm were the worst damaged in the attack, and were therefore the main target, and they belong to the CEO of the KAR Group of companies, Sheikh Baz Rauf Karim. The main business of this group of companies, which was founded in 1999, has branches in Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the US, and is owned by the Barzani family, is energy projects. The villas targeted are in a complex that also houses the new US Consulate, which is still under construction, as well as the Kurdistan24 internet news channel, which is owned by Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the KRI. What the implications might be from the point of view of the Kurds of Mossad having operational sites here (and in other places identified by Iran) is a matter for another article. But the fact that President Nechirvan Barzani has met twice in one month both with President Erdoğan and with Qatar’s exterior minister, should be viewed within the context of the gas and oil in the territory of South Kurdistan. Turkey’s plans to create a gas pipeline from South Kurdistan will open another window for conflict with Tehran.
The correct interpretation of all this and other dynamics besides requires a strong and political mind. Otherwise things which look like opportunities today may become great dangers. The balances of today may be the chains of tomorrow or the next day, leaving no room for the least movement.