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Will Kurdish forces intervene to help the embattled Iraqi PM?

The Peshmerga soldiers of the Kurdistan regional government are hardened fighters. Photo: Kerim Mustafa/ABACA/Press Association Images

By Lutfi Abu Aun, ITV News Middle East News Editor.

Will Kurdish forces interfere in Mosul and help the embattled Iraqi PM?

In 2005, when insurgents spread into Mosul, US troops sought the help of Kurdish fighters known as Peshmerga to regain full control of the Iraq’s second largest city.

Nine years on, questions are being asked as to whether the Peshmerga will repeat their 2005 intervention, this time helping Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The Peshmerga is a 200,000-strong fighting force. Their name in Kurdish means “those who confront death” and they have years experience in guerrilla warfare.

And that is perhaps what's now needed in Mosul to retake it back from the al-Qaeda splinter group, The Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (known as ISIL or ISIS).

Today their spokesperson said that Peshmerga had taken "full control" of the city of Kirkuk after Iraqi army forces fled the scene following clashes with the Islamic militants.

He also added that the Kurds now controlled areas outside Kurdistan's provinces.

The Kurds' priority is to secure Kirkuk, the oil-rich city and the city which Kurds want under their autonomous Kurdistan region. In doing this they would also secure the Kurdistan region borders from ISIS.

But Peshmerga have given no indication they would advance any further than Kirkuk and Kurdish areas at this point.

Iraq has asked the US for air assistance to quash ISIS, and according to official sources the administration is considering a number of military options including conducting strikes with drones or unmanned aircraft.

Iran, a close ally of al-Maliki, has also hinted at military help to support Iraq's embattled army.

But Iranian intervention, if it happens, would likely fuel the sectarian division already gripping the country.

Peshmerga tanks flying the Kurdish flag. Credit: Reuters/Ako Rasheed

Regardless of that, the question here is whether a US airstrike and Iranian military support would be enough for al-Maliki's forces to regain lost ground?

Or will he need the help of the tough Peshmerga guerrilla fighters to take the lead and invade Mosul?

If the latter happens it would have to be under the blessing of Arab Sunni tribes, who are angry with al-Maliki and his government and unlikely to cooperate with any action for now.

Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Credit: Olivier Douliery/ABACA USA/Empics Entertainment

In a televised speech on Wednesday the Iraqi PM announced that he would form an army of volunteers to fight alongside the regular army.

The internet is awash with reports that suggest hundreds if not thousands of Shiite youths in southern Iraqi provinces went to register their names.

This will only widen the already charged "sectarian” divide between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

Ultimately though, it's not in the interest of the Kurds to sit and watch an Islamic State ruled by extremists being created on their borders as this has the potential of backfiring on the security in their region.

They might intervene eventually, but perhaps only after Iraq's central government compromises on disputed issues with the Kurds, namely oil and Kirkuk.

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