Kirkuk: clashes between Iraqi forces and Peshmerga in the northern city

The fighting began when Iraqi troops and Shiite militias entered Altun Kupri as part of an operation “to impose law and order”, according to the Iraqi army.

Clashes still continued in the north of the city. Altun Kupri – a multi-ethnic town made up of Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs – is located about 32 km north of Kirkuk.

Iraqi army units control the Batma and Ein-Zala oil fields and a total of 44 oil wells, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said in a statement. The army also controls the districts of Zammar and Ayn Zala in the northwestern province of Nineveh, the statement said.

An eyewitness told CNN that the Peshmerga forces used light and heavy machine guns and mortars.

“This is the start of the war between the Kurds and Baghdad,” Goran Iz Al-Din, a Peshmerga commander, told CNN.

“We don’t want to be ruled by Iran,” he added, referring to the fact that some of the Iraqi Shiite militias – known as Popular Mobilization Units – are backed by Tehran.

The military actions have displaced at least 100,000 people, according to a statement from the Security Council of the Kurdistan region.

The statement said Peshmerga forces destroyed 10 US Humvees and two tanks, including an M1 Abrams tank – weapons “given to Iraq for the war against Islamic State”.

Iraqi forces seized the coveted oil-rich city of Kirkuk on Monday after three years under Kurdish control.

The Kurds had taken control of the city after Iraqi government forces abandoned it during the ISIS offensive in 2014.

The Kurdistan region and the greater Kirkuk province have around 15-25% of Iraq’s oil reserves, with several key oil fields surrounding the city of Kirkuk. Iraq has one of the largest known oil reserves in the world.

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Kirkuk was historically a predominantly Kurdish city, but during Saddam Hussein’s reign the ousted dictator moved Arab families and Kurdish families to change the region’s ethnography, as part of a policy called “Arabization.” It is also home to Sunni Arabs and Turkmens.

Extremists, including al-Qaeda in Iraq, have launched major attacks on Kirkuk over the past decade, mainly targeting the security forces.

After the fall of Hussein, the Kurds began to return to Kirkuk, repopulating the city and its surroundings.

Kurdistan resident Masoud Barzani issued a statement on Friday urging the international community to speak out “to prevent the occurrence of another genocide against the people of Kurdistan who now live under the oppression of the Iraqi government”.

On Friday, the US State Department said the Iraqi government should calm the situation in Kirkuk by coordinating with the Kurdistan regional government to limit the movement of Iraqi forces in disputed areas.

“The reaffirmation of federal authority over the disputed areas does not change their status – they remain disputed until their status is resolved in accordance with the Iraqi constitution,” the US statement said. “Until the parties reach a resolution, we urge them to fully coordinate the security and administration of these areas.”

CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali and Bijan Hosseini contributed to this report from Atlanta.

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