The division is growing between the two key political powers in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region as Kurdish Peshmerga forces have lost Kirkuk city and some nearby areas to the Iraqi Army and its allies.
On Monday, Lahur Sheikh Jangi, the head of the Kurdistan Region Intelligence Agency and a prominent member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) released a statement on the situation over Kirkuk city.
Sheikh Jangi denied claims of media loyal to Iraqi President Massoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) that he ordered the Peshmerga’s 70th Division to retreat from Kirkuk and added that forces deployed in Kirkuk were under Barzani’s control, according to Millet Press.
“Today’s developments in Kirkuk was Barzani’s plan to pull Kirkuk out of PUK control. It was result of the referendum and repetition of 31 August 1996,” Sheikh Jangi said. “We said from the beginning that this referendum is not aiming to declare independence but no one listened. We tried to announce seize fire yesterday to calm the situation but they didn’t listen and brought this situation on Kirkuk. Barzani should come out now and say something as he guaranteed no harm to be caused from the referendum but no single state supported the independence vote.”
Sheikh Jangi also promised to protect “people of Kirkuk.”
Earlier on Monday, reports appeard that the PUK-linked units of the Peshmerga abadoned its positions in Kirkuk city and allowed the Iraqi Army and its allies to achieve a rapid victory in the standoff. Some experts linked this with the recent visit of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani to the Iraqi Kurdistan.
Soleimani is a commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Quds Force is responsible for extraterritorial operations of the IRGC.
Soleimani has allegedly reached some “deal” with the PUK leadership that allowed government forces to take Kirkuk city almost without clashes.
At the same time, reports circulating that Turkey asked Barzani to abandon Kirkuk and its oil fields in exchange for keeping its border port of Ibrahim Khalil open for oil export from the region. The reports initially appeared in Al-Ghad Press that quoted an alleged source in the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.