McCain warns of ‘severe consequences’ if Baghdad uses US arms against Kurds

Camille Fine

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Baghdad on Monday of “severe consequences” if it uses U.S. arms against the Kurds.

“The United States provided equipment and training to the government of Iraq to fight [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)] and secure itself from external threats — not to attack elements of one of its own regional governments, which is a longstanding and valuable partner of the United States,” McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Monday.

“Make no mistake, there will be severe consequences if we continue to see American equipment misused in this way.”

Early Monday, Iraqi forces advanced into the disputed province of Kirkuk, which the Kurds have controlled since dispelling ISIS in 2014.

The U.S. military has trained and armed both Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS.

The United States has urged both sides to remain focused on the fight against ISIS as the terrorist group is on the brink of defeat in Iraq.

The oil-rich Kirkuk province has been at the heart of the dispute between the Kurdish region and Iraq’s central government, and tensions between the two have risen since last month’s nonbinding vote for Kurdish independence.

By midday Monday, Kurdish forces were withdrawing from Kirkuk after Iraqi forces seized oil fields north of the city, its airport and a military base, according to The Associated Press.

The two sides earlier exchanged fire, which the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq downplayed as a “misunderstanding.”

The Kurdish Regional Security Council also said Kurdish peshmerga forces destroyed at least five U.S. Humvees being used by Popular Mobilization Forces, Iranian-backed militias officially incorporated by the Iraqi government.

In his statement, McCain said he was “especially concerned” at the reports of the Iranian-backed forces’ involvement in Monday’s assault.

“Iraqi forces must take immediate steps to de-escalate this volatile situation by ceasing their advances,” he said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Kurdish regional government should begin a dialogue, he added.

“It is absolutely imperative for Prime Minister Abadi and the Kurdish regional government to engage in a dialogue about the Kurdish people’s desire for greater autonomy from Baghdad at an appropriate time and the need to halt hostilities immediately,” he said.

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