Baghdad. Iraqi forces fully control Kirkuk | Kurdish News
The Iraqi army claims to have taken full control of Kirkuk following a major advance on Kurdish-held territories.
Baghdad’s federal government and sources inside the city told Al Jazeera on Monday that Iraqi security forces had captured the governorate building in the center of the city of Kirkuk.
According to the security forces, the troops entered the building without any opposition from the Kurdish peshmerga fighters.
A dozen U.S.-trained Iraqi Counterterrorism Service Humvees arrived at the building and took up positions nearby, alongside local city police.
There was no immediate comment from the Kurdish authorities.
The advance was part of a major operation to retake the oil-rich province, in the midst of a growing dispute following a controversial Sept. 25 referendum on Kurdish secession that Baghdad declared illegal.
The Iraqi army said on Monday it had taken control of the city’s airport, in addition to an oil field, the strategic military base K1 and the Taza Khormatu neighborhood southeast of Kirkuk.
As the Iraqi army advanced, thousands of people, including civilians and peshmerga fighters, fled the disputed multi-ethnic city, home to an estimated one million Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians.
Kurdish forces had previously sworn to defend Kirkuk, and for three days they were locked down an armed confrontation with Iraqi government troops and Iranian-backed allied paramilitaries known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) on the outskirts of the city.
“It appears to be a complete pullout of the peshmerga in and around the city,” said Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, who followed Monday’s events from outside Kirkuk.
He noted that the speed at which Kirkuk had fallen was “really surprising”, as it only took Iraqi forces around 15 hours to capture the city.
“A lot of people were very upset about this takedown,” Stratford said.
“Standing on the side of the road, peshmerga fighters demanded that their colleagues return to Kirkuk and continue to try to defend it. But there were also a lot of very scared people desperate to get out as quickly as possible. »
“The Blame Game Begins”
There were also signs of divisions between the two dominant factions of Iraqi Kurds, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), just a day after their leaders showed unity in rejecting a request by Baghdad to annul the referendum result as a precondition for the talks.
In a Twitter post on Monday afternoon, Hemin Hawrami, special assistant to Masoud Barzani, chairman of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and leader of the KDP, tweeted what he said was a statement from a Shia militia. principal thanking PUK members for their cooperation in assisting in the withdrawal from certain areas around Kirkuk.
Statement by ASAAIB AHL AL HAQ, a notorious sectarian militia on their operation in Kirkuk, they publicly thank and appreciate the collaboration of the PUK leaders. pic.twitter.com/UFg94hpO42
—Hemin Hawrami (@heminhawrami) October 16, 2017
“The sense of surprise [after Kirkuk’s fall] among the ARK must be pretty amazing,” Stratford said. “It’s also interesting that we’re starting to hear the blame game start,” he added.
“There is going to be a lot of soul-searching, questioning and anger within the KRG about exactly how this happened after such strong rhetoric for days that the Kurds stood together and would defend Kirkuk in all cost.”
Kurdish peshmerga forces have taken over oil-rich Kirkuk after the Iraqi army fled a major offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in 2014 .
Since then, there has been no agreement between the KRG and the federal government in Baghdad over who should control the region – and benefit from its vast oil wealth.
Tensions between the two sides have been particularly high since Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for secession in last month’s referendum.
The non-binding ballot was held in areas under KRG control and in a handful of disputed territories, including Kirkuk.
Shortly after the referendum, the Iraqi parliament asked Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send troops to Kirkuk and regain control of the region’s oil fields.
Kirkuk Province is one of Iraq’s two main oil-producing regions, believed to have around 4% of the world’s oil resources.
It lies outside the official borders of the semi-autonomous territory of the Kurds and is home to Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens and Christians.
The vast majority of Turkmens and Arabs who have lived in Kirkuk for generations boycotted the referendum.
“There are a lot of Kurds who call it their Jerusalem,” Stratford said, “but there is also considerable opposition among Arabs and Turkmen to any idea about incorporating Kirkuk into a future independent Kurdish state. “