Iraqi forces claim rapid progress in operation to ‘impose security’ in Kirkuk | Iraq

Iraqi forces have reportedly captured a military base, airport and oil fields outside the northern city of Kirkuk after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the military to “d ‘impose security’ on Kurdish-held territory.

Iraqi troops began advancing on the oil city in the early hours of Monday morning amid reported clashes with Kurdish peshmerga fighters, special forces from the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Baghdad and the Kurdish region have long been at odds over the fate of Kirkuk, a dispute that has deepened since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a non-binding referendum.

Kirkuk, which took part in the September 25 referendum, has been under the control of Kurdish forces since 2014, when Iraqi forces fled the area as Islamic State jihadists advanced.

Iraqi forces said they made rapid progress on Monday, regaining control of the North Oil Company and Baba Gurgur fields as well as the K1 military base and an airport east of the city. Thousands of Kirkuk residents reportedly fled the city to Erbil and Sulaimaniya.

The US-led coalition fighting ISIS played down reports of clashes in a statement on Monday, saying it was aware of reports of a “limited firefight during hours of darkness before dawn”, but “we believe that the engagement this morning was a misunderstanding”. and not deliberate because two elements attempted to link up in conditions of reduced visibility”.

In a statement on Monday, Abadi said he felt compelled to act “in accordance with the constitution to serve the citizens and protect the unity of the country, which was in danger of partition due to the insistence on organizing the referendum”.

Urging peshmerga fighters to serve under “federal authority” as part of the Iraqi armed forces, the Iraqi prime minister said: “We have acted only to fulfill our constitutional duty to extend federal authority, to impose security and protect the national wealth in this country. city, that we want to remain a city of peaceful coexistence for all Iraqis”.

The Peshmerga General Command issued a statement urging Kurdish fighters to “resist and defeat the attackers”, saying Abadi’s government “should pay a heavy price” for its actions.

Rudaw, a Kurdish media network, said peshmerga forces still controlled the city of Kirkuk. “The peshmerga will definitely reorganize their forces,” said Halgurd Hikmat, the media officer of the peshmerga ministry, adding that Kurdish fighters were defending two other key oil fields.

“We have seen some of the young people who have expressed their willingness to help their peshmerga brothers to defend the land,” Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim told Rudaw. On Monday, Abadi appointed an Arab politician, Rakan Saeed, to replace Karim.

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The US Department of Defense has urged Iraqi and Kurdish forces “to avoid further escalation” that would harm the battle against ISIS. The United States has provided weapons to both the Iraqi army and the peshmerga to fight Daesh.

Global oil prices jumped on Monday amid reports of the clashes.

Kurdish President Masoud Barzani has ordered his forces not to start a conflict but to react if attacked, said Hemin Hawrami, a senior aide to the president.

Al-Iraqiya TV said Iraqi troops, anti-terrorist units and federal police had taken control of some areas around the city, advancing without firing a shot. The objective was to take control of the K1 air base, west of Kirkuk, said Lieutenant-Colonel Salah el-Kinani, of the Iraqi army’s 9th armored division.

Tensions in the region have risen since the referendum, which was strongly opposed by Iran, Baghdad and Turkey and has since led to a blockade of the region by the three powers.

Kurds in the Middle East

Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, one of Iraq’s most powerful figures, told Kurdish leaders ahead of the poll that he would not prevent Shia Popular Mobilization Front forces from attacking Kirkuk if the polls were held .

Baghdad had not accepted the Kurdish claim to the city, made up of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, and had fiercely opposed Kurdish officials selling oil from the Kirkuk fields via a pipeline to Turkey.

The United States – an ally of both Baghdad and Erbil, the seat of power of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) – had opposed the ballot, particularly the decision to include Kirkuk and other areas contested, a move officials called “dangerous unilateralism” that attempted to redraw the country’s borders.

On Friday, the Kurdish and Iraqi governments dispatched troops and armored vehicles to the city. Peshmerga forces massed about 20 miles from the southern limits of Kirkuk after units loyal to the central government took up positions on the outskirts of the city.

At the time, the likelihood of a battle for the ethnically diverse city had dissipated, with political leaders on both sides trying to calm nerves.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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