- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2017

Iranian and Turkish influence in northern Iraq could pose a threat to U.S. interests in the region and its relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government as Iraqi Kurds move forward with a controversial vote on independence in two months, a key House lawmaker warned Monday.

Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, told a Capitol Hill briefing that it is vital that the Kurdistan Regional Government address fears that it “would become a puppet of Istanbul or Tehran” as it seeks U.S. support for its independence push.

On Sept. 25, the Kurds will vote in a referendum on independence with the results — projected to be an overwhelming majority in favor of breaking with Iraq — used as leverage in negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad on key issues that include security, disputed territories, economics and international aid.

The Trump administration has stated that it doesn’t support a referendum vote in September, fearing it could prove destabilizing and take focus away from the fight to oust Islamic State from Iraq.

Last year, Mr. Franks, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed an amendment to a defense authorization bill to directly arm the Kurds, who have provided key military muscle in the fight against Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. The amendment was stripped from the final version of the bill under pressure from the Obama Administration.

On Monday, Mr. Franks said that the Trump administration is ready to do more to help the Kurds — so long as they stand up to Turkey and Iran.

“I think it’s incumbent upon the KRG to show through their actions that their key ally is the United States of America,” he said. “Fortunately, now they have an administration which will respond appropriately at the end of the day — and that they’re not an ally with the Islamist Sunni regime in Turkey nor ally of Islamist Shia regime in Iran.”

Mr. Franks praised the Kurds and their fighting force, the peshmerga, for their key role in defeating ISIS and accepting over 2 million refugees and internally displaced peoples into the Kurdish region.

“I just thank God for the Kurds — for the way that they have welcomed so many people. … God knows how much worse ISIS would have been and how much horror they would have hoisted upon the people of Iraq,” the conservative lawmaker said.

The KRG has already expressed concern over the use of Iranian-backed Shiite militias operating not only in Iraq, but in the northern Kurdish regions as well. KRG Representative to the U.S. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman reiterated the Kurdish people’s concern over the continued presence of Iranian-backed militias in Kurdish territory and the threat they pose to stability in the area.

The Kurds have said that they will not abandon areas they liberate from Islamic State, and areas they’ve helped defend that are historically Kurdish and have a Kurdish majority should be part of an independent Kurdistan, such as Kirkuk.

Kurdish militia notably did not participate in the liberation of Mosul because they believe it the responsibility of the Iraq central government, but they did coordinate with Iraqi security forces to secure the area surrounding the city.

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