By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Kurds vote, neighbors threaten war. Voting began Monday in northern Iraq on a controversial referendum that will decide whether Iraqi Kurds will declare independence from Iraq. Iraq’s central government remains starkly opposed to the effort and has asked countries to stop buying oil from Kurdistan, and threatened a wider economic blockade.
With roughly 30 million ethnic Kurds scattered over Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, Iraq’s neighbors are eyeing the vote anxiously, and beginning to take more drastic action. On Sunday, Iran halted flights to and from the Iraqi Kurdish region and kicked off military exercises near the Iraqi border.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, subtle as ever, is openly threatening war. He has already staged tanks and troops at his border, saying Monday, “our military is not (at the border) for nothing…We could arrive suddenly one night.” He also endorsed an economic blockade: “Let’s see where — and through which channels — will they sell their oil. We have the valve. The moment we shut the valve, that’s the end of it.” FP recently ran down some controversy over U.S. military aid to the Kurds.
Charges of Russian bombing. Over the border in Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces claim that Russian jets have again attacked their positions in hotly contested Deir el-Zour province.
The alleged attack comes a week after Russian jets bombed an SDF unit and their American advisors — injuring six Syrians — and leading to an extraordinary meeting between U.S. and Russian generals to try and prevent future attacks. FP’s Paul McLeary has more here on Russian promises to keep bombing the SDF, and attempts to keep the U.S. allies away from forces comprised of Syrian government troops, Hezbollah fighters, Iranian troops and Russian special forces.
In recent days, the SDF captured a large gas field from the Islamic State, intensifying the competition with the regime of Bashar al Assad and his Iranian and Russian backers to capture the oil and gas fields of eastern Syria. On Sunday, Russia announced that one of its generals was killed in Deir el-Zour in an ISIS mortar attack.
Drone wars. Iranian officials also said that their armed drones bombed Islamic State positions in eastern Syria over the weekend, around the same time the U.S. launched six drone strikes against ISIS militants in Libya, killing an estimated 17 fighters and destroying several vehicles. Meanwhile, the…