FILE PHOTO: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani (L) stands at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province March 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani has promised retaliation to any US sanctions. Reuters

Iran's Gen Suleimani 'issued stark warning' to Iraq Kurds over Kirkuk

A senior Iranian military commander repeatedly warned Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq to withdraw from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk or face an onslaught by Iraqi forces and allied Iranian-backed militias, Kurdish officials briefed on the meetings said.

Major-General Qassem Suleimani, commander of foreign operations for Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, travelled to Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region to meet Kurdish leaders at least three times this month before Baghdad's lightning campaign to recapture territory from the Kurds across the north.

The presence of Gen Suleimani on the front lines highlights Tehran's heavy sway over policy in Iraq.

The commander met leaders from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Puk), one of the two main Kurdish political parties, in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah the day before Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi ordered his forces to advance on Kirkuk, according to a Puk lawmaker briefed on the meeting.

His message was clear: withdraw or risk losing Tehran as a strategic ally.


Read more:

Analysis: Why Kirkuk fell to Iraqi troops without Kurdish resistance

Comment: Moderation and caution should be the watchwords in a Kurdish crisis that could spiral out of control


"Abadi has all the regional powers and the West behind him and nothing will stop him from forcing you to return back to the mountains if he decides so," the Puk lawmaker quoted Gen Suleimani as telling the party leadership.

The Iranian general evoked late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s massive attack on a Kurdish rebellion in 1991, when almost the entire Kurdish population fled northern Iraq to the mountains, the Puk lawmaker said.

"Suleimani's visit … was to give a last-minute chance for the decision-makers not to commit a fatal mistake," said the lawmaker, who like others interviewed in this story declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Commanders of the Iraqi Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, have accused Iran of orchestrating the Shiite-led Iraqi central government's push into areas under their control, a charge senior Iranian officials have denied.

But Iran has made no secret of its presence in Iraq.

"Tehran's military help is not a secret anymore. You can find General Suleimani's pictures in Iraq everywhere," said an official close to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.

"Now, beside political issues, Kirkuk's oil is a very key element for Iran, which is an Opec member. Control of those oilfields by Iran's enemies would be disastrous for us. Why should we let them enter the oil market?."

Kirkuk fell to Iraqi government forces on Monday. Their offensive followed a referendum last month in which the Kurdish region voted to secede from Iraq against Baghdad's wishes.

Iraq's two main Kurdish parties have been at odds over both the referendum and the approach to the crisis in Kirkuk, which the Kurds consider to be the heart of their homeland.

The Puk, a close ally of Iran, accused its rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), of putting the Kurds at risk of military intervention and isolation by pushing hard for the vote, which won wide approval for independence.


Read more: Kurdish independence bid undoes goodwill earned in fight against ISIL


Gen Suleimani has been allied to the Puk for years, but the referendum has drawn him even closer to Kurdish politics and expanded Iran's reach in Iraq beyond the central government in Baghdad.

The Iranian general is no stranger to conflicts in Iraq, which fought an eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. He has often been seen in footage from the front lines, and Iran has long helped Baghdad to carry out its military strategy through paramilitary mainly Shiite forces which it funds and arms.

Before the September 25 referendum, Gen Suleimani suggested to Kurdish leaders that holding a vote on secession — which Iran feared would encourage its own Kurdish population to agitate for greater autonomy — would be risky.

"The Iranians were very clear. They have been very clear that there will be conflict, that these territories will be lost," said one prominent Iraqi Kurdish politician who met Gen Suleimani ahead of the referendum.

On October 6, barely a week after the vote, Gen Suleimani attended the funeral of Puk leader Jalal Talabani. Again, he wanted to make sure even his closest Kurdish allies understood the dangers of not withdrawing from Kirkuk, officials said.

A senior Iranian diplomat in Iraq and an official in Iran close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office said Gen Suleimani met with Kurdish leaders after Talabani's funeral and urged them to withdraw from Kirkuk; in exchange, the commander said Tehran would protect their interests.

Gen Suleimani met with one of Talabani's sons, Bafel, a few days after his father was buried, one of the Puk officials said.

"Suleimani said Abadi should be taken very seriously. You should understand this," the official said.

An Iranian source in Iraq meanwhile said Gen Suleimani was in Kirkuk two nights before the Iraqi government offensive for "a couple of hours to give military guidance". Iraqi intelligence sources said Tehran sent a clear signal to the Puk.

"We understand from our sources on the ground that neighbouring Iran played a decisive role in making the Puk chose the right course with Baghdad," one Iraqi intelligence official said.

Tensions over the referendum and Kirkuk have deepened divisions between the two main political parties in northern Iraq. The KDP accused the Puk of betraying the Kurdish cause by capitulating to Iran and striking a deal to withdraw — something the Puk has strongly denied.


Creators: Mohammed Amer, Ramy Youssef

Stars: Mohammed Amer, Teresa Ruiz, Omar Elba

Rating: 4/5

The specs

Engine: 3.0 twin-turbo inline six-cylinder
Transmission: eight-speed
Power: 503hp
Torque: 600Nm
Price: from Dh400,000 (estimate)
On sale: now

EA Sports FC 24

Developer: EA Vancouver, EA Romania
Publisher: EA Sports
Consoles: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4&5, PC and Xbox One
Rating: 3.5/5

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

'Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower'
Michael Beckley, Cornell Press


Date started: 2012

Founder: Amir Barsoum

Based: Dubai, UAE

Sector: HealthTech / MedTech

Size: 300 employees

Funding: $22.6 million (as of September 2018)

Investors: Technology Development Fund, Silicon Badia, Beco Capital, Vostok New Ventures, Endeavour Catalyst, Crescent Enterprises’ CE-Ventures, Saudi Technology Ventures and IFC


Engine: Two-litre four-cylinder turbo
Power: 235hp
Torque: 350Nm
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Price: From Dh167,500 ($45,000)
On sale: Now

Why your domicile status is important

Your UK residence status is assessed using the statutory residence test. While your residence status – ie where you live - is assessed every year, your domicile status is assessed over your lifetime.

Your domicile of origin generally comes from your parents and if your parents were not married, then it is decided by your father. Your domicile is generally the country your father considered his permanent home when you were born. 

UK residents who have their permanent home ("domicile") outside the UK may not have to pay UK tax on foreign income. For example, they do not pay tax on foreign income or gains if they are less than £2,000 in the tax year and do not transfer that gain to a UK bank account.

A UK-domiciled person, however, is liable for UK tax on their worldwide income and gains when they are resident in the UK.

Our legal advisor

Ahmad El Sayed is Senior Associate at Charles Russell Speechlys, a law firm headquartered in London with offices in the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Hong Kong.

Experience: Commercial litigator who has assisted clients with overseas judgments before UAE courts. His specialties are cases related to banking, real estate, shareholder disputes, company liquidations and criminal matters as well as employment related litigation. 

Education: Sagesse University, Beirut, Lebanon, in 2005.


The line-up as it stands for the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia on April 27

50-man Royal Rumble

Universal Championship
Brock Lesnar (champion) v Roman Reigns

Casket match
The Undertaker v Rusev

Intercontinental Championship
Seth Rollins (champion) v The Miz v Finn Balor v Samoa Joe

SmackDown Tag Team Championship
The Bludgeon Brothers v The Usos

Raw Tag Team Championship
Sheamus and Cesaro v Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy

United States Championship
Jeff Hardy (champion) v Jinder Mahal

Singles match
Triple H v John Cena

To be confirmed
AJ Styles will defend his WWE World Heavyweight title and Cedric Alexander his Cruiserweight Championship, but matches have yet to be announced


Mr Kandhari is legally authorised to conduct marriages in the gurdwara

He has officiated weddings of Sikhs and people of different faiths from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Russia, the US and Canada

Father of two sons, grandfather of six

Plays golf once a week

Enjoys trying new holiday destinations with his wife and family

Walks for an hour every morning

Completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Loyola College, Chennai, India

2019 is a milestone because he completes 50 years in business


The biog

Born: Kuwait in 1986
Family: She is the youngest of seven siblings
Time in the UAE: 10 years
Hobbies: audiobooks and fitness: she works out every day, enjoying kickboxing and basketball

Most Read
Top Videos