- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2017

Iraqi forces and Iranian paramilitary units, armed with American-made armored vehicles and tanks, launched a large-scale assault Friday on a Kurdish peshmerga outpost north of the recently recaptured city of Kirkuk.

Iraqi forces launched the attack on the northern Iraqi town of Altun Kupri, 30 miles north of Kirkuk, early Friday morning, a statement by the Kurdish peshmerga General Command said. Peshmerga fighters repelled waves of assaulting forces “using American weapons which were given to the Iraqi army” during the attack.

“More than 10 Humvees and one M1 Abrams tank have been destroyed,” peshmerga commanders claimed in the statement. The attack was the latest effort by Baghdad to reclaim all territory in Kirkuk governorate that surrounding the oil-rich Iraqi, which had been under Kurdish control since 2014.

Friday’s attack comes less than a week after Baghdad ordered an initial assault on the city of Kirkuk itself, which Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani said both cities would remain under peshmerga protection indefinitely.

“Iranian artillery experts,” supposedly tied to Tehran’s Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps or IRGC, also participated in the Altun Kupri offensive, peshmerga commanders say. IRGC elements have been responsible for training and advising the Shia militias in Iraq known as Popular Mobilization Forces or PMFs. IRGC commander Maj Gen. Qassem Soleimani was reportedly on the ground, assisting militia commanders during the assault on Kirkuk earlier this week.

Despite ongoing internal strife between Baghdad and Irbil, which had been Washington’s staunchest allies in the anti-Islamic State coalition, the Pentagon is adamant the coalition remains a cohesive force in the region.

“I think we support a unified Iraq. That’s been our position. We’ll continue to support that,” Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon, adding “there’s still avenues ahead of us” that can lead to a peaceful resolution in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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