Iraqi forces began an operation to retake the disputed city of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq Monday morning local time, a culmination of weeks of escalating tensions between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) following last month’s independence vote in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraqi forces and Kurdistan’s Peshmerga have clashed with one another within Kirkuk as Iraqi forces move within the city. Fighting alongside the Iraqi forces is an Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia group, Hashd-Al Shaabi.
The Iraqi forces quickly took hold of vital infrastructure in the area, including the coveted oil fields near the city.
Reports of casualties in the clashes have emerged, with civilians being injured during ongoing fighting between Hashd-Al Shaabi forces and the Peshmerga.
Rudaw’s war reporter Hunar Ahmed attempts to help civilians attacked by Hashd al-Shaabi in #Kirkuk. #KurdistanBlockade pic.twitter.com/shELzzjf8J
— Rudaw English (@RudawEnglish) October 16, 2017
In response to Iraqi units and Shi’ite militia blockading the city, thousands of Kurds within Kirkuk volunteered to take up arms in order to help the Peshmerga, who are fighting on multiple fronts within the city.
Speaking to state television reporters, Iraqi prime minister Haider Al-Abadi stated that he had ordered forces to ‘impose security’ on the area.
The international community, including the United States, ha following the clashes. The Pentagon released a statement calling for calm from ‘all actors’ in the region and for a refocused effort on fighting Islamic State (IS) militants.
US Coalition soldiers have met with Peshmerga leaders in Erbil following the clashes. In a meeting with their US counterparts, Peshmerga officials have insisted that they will ‘not be silent’ in defending Kurdistan from Iraqi forces
Following last month’s independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, tensions between the Kurdish region and the Iraqi government have escalated. Abadi accused the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and its leader Masoud Barzani of ‘violating’ the Iraqi constitution by holding the vote.
In the days leading up the clash, Barzani and KRG had reached out to Abadi for a ‘dialogue’ on the Kirkuk situation. Abadi declined in response, insisting dialogue would only be possible if the Kurds gave up all claims to the city of Kirkuk.