by Staff Writers
Kirkuk, Iraq (AFP) Oct 16, 2017
Iraqi and Kurdish forces exchanged artillery fire early Monday south of the city of Kirkuk, after central government forces began a "major operation" to take control of a Kurdish military base and oil fields.
Shortly before, state television announced that government troops had taken "large areas" of the province from Kurdish peshmerga fighters "without fighting", although military sources on both sides reported exchange of Katyusha rocket fire to the south of the provincial capital.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who said this week that he was "not going... to make war on our Kurdish citizens", has "given orders to armed forces to take over security in Kirkuk," state television said.
Iraqi troops will "secure bases and government facilities in Kirkuk province" the government said. They are aiming to retake military bases and oil fields which Kurdish peshmerga fighters took in 2014 during the fightback against the Islamic State jihadist group.
Multiple peshmergas were injured in the clashes and hospitalised in Kirkuk, a local security source said.
Tensions have soared between the central government and Iraqi Kurds in the wake of a September 25 non-binding referendum that produced a resounding "yes" for independence for the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
Baghdad has declared the referendum -- held despite international opposition -- illegal.
Abadi said that members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation forces, which are dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, would stay away from Kirkuk, where there have been multiple demonstrations against their involvement in the dispute.
"Counter terrorism units, the 9th armoured division of the army, and the federal police have recovered control of important areas of Kirkuk province without fighting," a general from the counter terrorism force said.
The peshmergas "have withdrawn from Tal Al-Ward (southeast of Kirkuk) and from the industrial zone in the suburbs of Kirkuk without fighting," said Hemin Hawrami, adviser to President Massoud Barzani.
Further south, two people were killed in artillery exchanges at Tuz Khurmatu, 75 kilometres from Kirkuk, which has been shaken every night since Friday by fighting between the peshmerga and Hashed al-Shaabi, a doctor at a city hospital said.
An AFP photographer saw columns of Iraqi troops heading north from the town of Taza Khurmatu, which is located south of Kirkuk.
The advance came days after a standoff between Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army and the expiry of a deadline for Kurdish peshmerga fighters to withdraw from the areas they have controlled since 2014.
- 'Declaration of war' -
The crisis has raised fears of fresh chaos just as the country's forces are on the verge of routing IS from the last territory it controls in Iraq.
Iraqi forces are seeking the "K1 base", just eight kilometres (five miles) north of Kirkuk, which was one of the main Iraqi army bases before it was taken over by the peshmerga in 2014.
It stands near an oil refinery, The Iraqi troops also hope to retake the nearby airport.
Earlier 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).
Crisis talks on Sunday made little headway in resolving an armed standoff between Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the province.
For their part the Iraqi forces have said that they have no wish to enter Kirkuk but that they wish to retake military positions and infrastructure which were under their control before their troops withdrew in the face of hostility from the jihadists.
On the fringes of the town, they used loudspeakers to call on the peshmerga to give up their positions, local sources said.
- Few hopes of dialogue -
Long claimed by the Kurds as part of their historic territory, the province has emerged as the main flashpoint in the dispute.
Polling during the referendum was held not only in the three provinces of the autonomous Kurdish region but also in adjacent Kurdish-held areas, including Kirkuk, that are claimed by both Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Kurds control the city of Kirkuk and three major oil fields in the province that produce some 250,000 barrels per day, accounting for 40 percent of Iraqi Kurdistan's oil exports.
The fields would provide crucial revenue to Baghdad, which has been left cash-strapped from the global fall in oil prices and three years of battle against IS. Iraq is also demanding the return of a military base and a nearby airport, according to the Kurds.
Kabul (AFP) Oct 12, 2017
Civilian casualties caused by airstrikes in Afghanistan surged in the first nine months of this year, the United Nations said Thursday, as the US ramps up aerial attacks in the war-torn country. Women and children accounted for more than two thirds of the victims, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a report, a toll increased by the Afghan Air Force carrying out its own aerial ... read more
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