Amidst growing tensions in the region, Iraqi units have taken control of the city of Kirkuk, the K1 military aiport, the Baba Gurgur oil and gas field, and a state-owned oil company’s offices.
Iraqi forces had moved into several major oil fields north of Kirkuk, as well as its airport and an important military base, according to Iraqi sources. Kurdish party headquarters inside Kirkuk had been abandoned. Baghdad said the Peshmerga had withdrawn “without fighting”, but clashes were reported south of Kirkuk.
While politicians and authorities led by Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have said they will stand their ground and fight, their rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has been more amenable to an agreement to allow Baghdad to enter.
Supporters of KRG President Masoud Barzani blamed the PUK for a lose of Kirkuk and US for an absense of the support.
Peshmerga spokesman Brig Gen Bahzad Ahmed told the Associated Press that the fighting south of Kirkuk had caused “lots of casualties”. He alleged that pro-government forces had also “burnt lots of houses and killed many people” in Tuz Khurmatu, 75km south of Kirkuk, and Daquq. However, he was not able to provide any confirmation to his words.
U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad had described the situation as “stable” but said the “heightened tension” was distracting from the fight against ISIS militants. The US consulate in Baghdad said that they support the notion of contentious territories being controlled according to the Constitution.
The US-led coalition against ISIS, that backs both Iraqi Army and Peshmerga forces, has stated that they “strongly urge all sides to avoid escalatory actions,” and has not shown support for either side of the conflict.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement that the operation in Kirkuk was necessary to “protect the unity of the country, which was in danger of partition” because of the referendum.
The Iraqi parliament asked Abadi to deploy troops to Kirkuk and other disputed areas after the referendum result was announced, but he said last week that he would accept them being governed by a “joint administration” and that he did not want an armed confrontation.
Abadi also appointed Rakan al-Jibouri to be the new governor of Kirkuk instead of Najmiddin Karim, who had supported Kurdish independence.
On October 15, his cabinet accused the KRG of deploying non-Peshmerga fighters in Kirkuk, including members of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it said was tantamount to a “declaration of war”. KRG officials denied these allegations. Then, a video showing PKK members in Kirkuk appeared.
Turkey also accused Erbil of collaborating with PKK forces, and promised to take the necessary measures. Turkey’s National Security Council called for the federal government in Baghdad to take control of the border crossing between Turkey and the Kurdish region in northern Iraq and proposed closing Turkish airspace for flights heading to or departing from Kurdish territory in Iraq.
Kirkuk is an oil-rich province claimed by both the Kurds and the central government.