The interference of the Iranian terrorist commander Qasem Soleimani in the internal affairs of Iraq has reached scandalous proportions that should sound alarm bells in the West.
It has emerged that the general, who commands the terrorist Quds Force, responsible for foreign operations by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, orchestrated the reoccupation of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and many other Kurdish regions in Northern Iraq.
Kirkuk and other disputed areas bordering Kurdistan had been held by the Iraqi Kurds for the past two years after the Kurdish Peshmerga military force successfully ousted the Islamic State. The Americans recently listed the IRGC as an international terrorist organization; the Quds Force has been on terrorist blacklists for years.
The Iraqi federal government had been reeling from the apparent takeover of Kirkuk by the Kurds. There was also increasing tension and splits within Kurdistan itself, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main parties controlling the KRG and the main opposition to Barzani's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party.
It now seems that some of the leaders of the PUK, close allies of the Iranian regime, met with Soleimani in the city of Sulaimania the day before the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi military forces and pro-Iranian militias, such as Hashd al-Shaabi, to reoccupy Kirkuk. Barzani, his party and many Kurdish leaders and parties have accused some of the leaders of the PUK of betraying Kirkuk and the martyrs who died rescuing the city from IS.
Many of the PUK's senior officials and members of the Peshmerga have condemned those leaders who have betrayed them.
Soleimani had issued repeated warnings to Barzani to withdraw the Peshmerga from Kirkuk or face a fierce Iraqi government offensive. That an Iranian general can so blatantly interfere in the internal affairs of a neighboring country has served to expose the vice-like and malevolent control that the clerical regime has now wrought over Iraq. It has emerged that Soleimani had visited Kurdistan at least three times this month, allegedly telling the PUK leadership that his brutal, pro-Iranian Shi'ite militias would drive the entire Kurdish population into the mountains if they ignored his advice to abandon Kirkuk.
These were not empty threats from a terrorist commander with a reputation like Soleimani. The Iranian general has personally supervised some of the worst atrocities committed in Syria, where more than 70,000 mostly young Afghan refugees, have been sent by the mullahs' regime to bolster Bashar al-Assad in his blood-encrusted civil war.
Soleimani has also advised the vicious Houthi rebels in Yemen and the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon. But his primary efforts have been directed against the Sunni population of Iraq, where the ruthless militias under his command have waged a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul.
Such is Soleimani's growing influence as a key pillar in the Iranian regime's aggressive expansionist policy in the Middle East, that he now reports directly to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, bypassing the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Abadi is now like a rabbit caught in the Iranian regime's headlights, watching helplessly as control of Iraq's armed forces has been almost entirely conceded to the clerical regime.
Now, with the reoccupation of Kirkuk orchestrated and commanded by Soleimani, it appears as if Iran has struck a deal with elements of the PUK to further their interests in Iraqi Kurdistan. This inevitably will sow fresh seeds of conflict in an area already torn by tension and division.
But Kurdistan is fertile ground for Soleimani. Fomenting civil conflict has been his core strategy in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. The mullahs have become experts in stepping over the corpses of tens of thousands to plant the Iranian regime's flag in increasing parts of the Middle East.
It is perhaps significant that only a few days after the IRGC was designated as an international terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury, creating huge problems for the Iranian regime where the Revolutionary Guards control over 70 percent of the economy, that Soleimani launched his bid to orchestrate the reoccupation of Kirkuk. His show of strength in Kirkuk represents an outright provocation to the Americans, who must now prove to the world that Soleimani and his terrorist force cannot be allowed to subvert the rule of law.
This article was first published by UPI. Struan Stevenson is president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East.