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Kurdish officials on Tuesday revealed more details about the warnings they gave to U.S. officials about the threat from Sunni militants now rampaging across Iraq with their eyes on Baghdad.
As far back as six months ago, Kurdish intelligence operatives were receiving troubling reports from along the border between Syria and Iraq, officials told NBC News.
There was a suspiciously large amount of men gathering in makeshift camps and staging areas that were accumulating weapons and vehicles. They appeared, according to Kurdish intelligence, to be preparing for battle.
The men were made up of mostly fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS), which has taken control of several cities in Iraq in the past couple of weeks — but Kurdish Intelligence operatives also noticed the fighters' ranks had grown.
Joining were young men from local Iraqi tribes not known to have previous affiliation with ISIS, an organization aimed at establishing an Islamic caliphate militarily and imposing their strict interpretation of Islamic Law, or ‘Sharia’ in Iraq and greater Syria. Kurdish intelligence also learned that former officials from Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party and ex-military officers were communicating with the fighters.
Then, in April, large convoys of vehicles carrying militants were spotted moving across the Syria-Iraq border. Only this time, after years of moving to the Syrian battlefield, they were now returning to Iraq.
The intelligence, according to Kurdish security sources, also revealed that ISIS had shifted its sights away from Syria and onto Iraq to tap into a groundswell of resentment among Sunni communities in the west of the country — who are underrepresented by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad.
For months, Sunni tribes had been openly revolting and at times clashing with Iraqi’s central government but they had been unable to expand beyond the territories where they were deeply rooted. That was until ISIS came along.
By mid-April, Kurdish intelligence learned there was a plan in place to attack Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and ultimately move on to the capital Baghdad.
The plan, the location and the information gathered by Kurdish intelligence were relayed back to the highest levels of the Obama administration during communications between Kudistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Kurdish officials said.
The information was also shared with the U.S. diplomats in Iraq and to U.S. intelligence channels, according to Kurdish officials speaking on anonymity regarding the matter.
Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani even offered to help the Iraqi army deal with the ISIS threat.
"We tried with Prime Minister (Al-Maliki) to do something. At least we offered them a joint operation almost six months ago, but they refused it," Prime Minister Barzani said. "He said everything is fine, there is no problem, everything is under control."
When Kurdish officials pushed the matter to U.S. officials, "the Americans showed interest, but we didn't see anything," said Rooz Bahjat, one of the Kurdish Regional Government's most senior security officials now involved in stopping the ISIS advance across Iraq.
“The Americans told us they’ll put pressure on Iraq and tell Baghdad, but nothing happened,” Barzani said.
Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for Obama's National Security Council staff, refused to respond directly to questions that the U.S. ignored Kurdish warnings, but said, "On a general note, we would refute the notion that the United States has not done anything in response to the ISIL threat in Iraq."