Egypt urges Iraq, Kurdish region for restraint

Egypt urges Iraq, Kurdish region for restraint

Kerry Wise
October 17, 2017

The rapid advance, involving troops, tanks and armoured vehicles, aims to recapture oil and military targets that Kurdish forces took over during the fightback against the Islamic State group (IS).

At the same time, the US Department of Defense refused tcomment on reports speculating that Iraqi Security Forces were using US military equipment and training to push Kurdish Pershmerga fighters out of areas surrounding Kirkuk.

Residents of Kurdish-controlled areas, including Kirkuk, overwhelmingly backed secession from Iraq in a 25 September vote. Controversially, the vote also included so-called disputed areas outside the KRG's official boundaries, including Kirkuk.

Almost 93 percent of voters chose independence in September's Kurdish referendum. Ala Talabani, leader of the PUK parliamentary delegation in Baghdad, was shocked at the funeral of her uncle, former Iraq president Jalal Talabani last Friday, to find that the Iraqi flag had been removed from the coffin and there was only a Kurdish flag.

Following the referendum, Iraq's parliament demanded the military be deployed to Kirkuk to reassert control.

The US, which has armed, trained and provided vital air support to both sides in their shared struggle against the Islamic State group, described Monday's events as "coordinated movements, not attacks", while bemoaning the dispute as a distraction against a common enemy.

The situation in Kirkuk has always been described by analysts as a potential powder keg, while the risk of civil war between Baghdad and the Kurds has witnessed a notable increase in the wake of the referendum.

In a statement read on state television early Monday, Abadi took a placatory but firm stance, saying it was his constitutional duty to protect the unity of a country that was in danger of being divided while Iraq was fighting "an existential war against terror". Kurdish forces occupied much of Kirkuk province in June 2014 after Iraqi troops retreated ahead of the then-advancing militants.

The withdrawal of part of the Kurdish forces is ultimately a reflection of deep divisions between the Kurdish leaders and their parties, whose rivalry has always been intense. The Iraqi military said it seized two major oil fields outside the city. The PUK and KDP are rivals and the current crisis in Kirkuk has highlighted disunity between Kurdish factions.

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The most serious clash happened south of Kirkuk, an exchange of artillery fire between the Peshmerga and Popular Mobilisation, the KRG official said.

On Sunday, Iraq's National Security Council said it viewed as a "declaration of war" the presence of "fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk", including fighters from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

While Kirkuk is outside Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdish voters in the city were allowed to take part. The Iranians have always been anxious about Iraqi Kurdistan becoming a base for U.S. forces that could be used against us.

Kirkuk's ethnic and religious mixture are a microcosm of Iraq's sectarian divide itself - sitting on top of Iraq's second largest oil reserves. The city has a population of one million made up of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, the latter two communities hostile to Kurdish rule.

Since the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq, Kurds have sought to tip the demographics of the province back in their favor.

Ankara, which fears the independence vote by the Iraqi Kurds could spark similar moves by its own Kurdish minority, said it was ready to help Baghdad oust Kurdish fighters from Kirkuk. However, it is believed that the Kurds are now a majority in both the province and the city.

The other three - Baba Gargar, Jambur and Khabbaz - are managed by the publicly owned North Oil Company (NOC) and produce some 90,000 barrels per day for export, with revenues going to the Kurds.

Tension was running high at the news of the Iraqi operation and young Kurds carrying automatic guns were seen in the streets until the early hours of Monday. However, Kurdish politicians often complain they do not receive their fair share.