Iraqi forces seize oil-city of Kirkuk from Kurds

17 October, 2017, 00:16 | Author: Essie Rivera
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Others grabbed weapons and descended into the streets to help defend Kirkuk against what the Kurdish Region Security Council described as "a major, multi-pronged operation" meant to enter the city and take over a key airbase and oil fields.

The reports say that forces began moving at midnight on Sunday towards oil fields and an important air base held by Kurdish forces near the city. It is considered a terrorist group by Turkey as well as by the European Union and US. It said the limited exchange of fire was a "misunderstanding".

Iraq's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, had denounced the vote as unconstitutional. "We have only acted to fulfil our constitutional duty and extend the federal authority and impose security and protect the national wealth in this city", he said. The Kurdish region is presently entitled to 17% of Iraq's federal budget, of which the Kurds are expected to try to negotiate a bigger share, in addition to greater autonomy.

Pro-PUK forces were deployed south of the city, including at oil fields, while fighters loyal to the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), linked to Iraqi Kurd leader Massoud Barzani who initiated the referendum, were deployed to the north.

He called on "all citizens to cooperate with the armed forces" who had been tasked with "protecting civilians in the first degree and imposing security and order and protecting the facilities and institutions of the state".

Brig Gen Bahzad Ahmed, a spokesman for Kurdish forces, said federal forces seized an oil and gas company and other industrial areas south of Kirkuk in fighting with Kurdish forces that caused "lots of casualties", without providing a specific figure.

Two people were killed in artillery exchanges at Tuz Khurmatu, a doctor at a city hospital said. His claims could not be independently verified.

The United States continues to support a unified Iraq, Manning said.

"We've got confirmation from military commanders that it's a matter of a very short time", a senior Baghdad oil official told Reuters.

Turkey, which had developed a good working relationship with the Iraqi Kurds and let the landlocked region export oil through its pipes, has swung behind Baghdad, furious at a secession move that might ignite similar demands from its own Kurds.

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The Iraqi government and the KRG have been at loggerheads since a September 25 Kurdish independence referendum, rejected as illegal by Baghdad.

The conflict between Kurdistan and the Iraqi government over land and oil is decades old, but a Kurdish referendum for independence last month inflamed the tensions.

The Baghdad central government has taken a series of steps to isolate the autonomous Kurdish region since its vote for independence, including banning global flights.

"We don't like the fact that they're clashing".

Abadi's government has been under strong pressure from Iran-backed militias from Iraq's Arab Shiite Muslim majority to take military action to crush the Kurdish independence bid.

While Kirkuk is outside Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdish voters in the city were allowed to take part.

A video shared online showed six bodies of what appeared to be Kurdish peshmerga soldiers lying by a roadside near Iraqi vehicles.

Iraq's government barred global flights to and from the region and asked neighbouring Turkey and Iran to close their borders. The Iraqi side is also backed up by Shiite militia forces close to Iran - at a time when the Trump administration has intensified its rhetoric about trying to curb Iranian influence in the region, including increasing sanctions on Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps last week. It also froze currency transfers to four banks operating in the Kurdish region.

Last Friday, US President Donald Trump announced that the IRGC was the target of new American sanctions, describing Iran's leading military institution as the "corrupt personal terror force and militia" of the regime's supreme leader that has "hijacked" large portions of the economy "to fund war and terror overseas".

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