Posts Tagged ‘Kurdish’

Iraq forces take two key Kirkuk oil field from Kurds

October 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A technician oversees pumping at Iraq’s Bai Hassan oil field, one of the two largest in the disputed northern province of Kirkuk

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi forces took control of the two largest oil fields in the disputed northern province of Kirkuk on Tuesday dealing a heavy blow to the finances of the autonomous Kurdish government.The Kurds withdrew without a fight after federal government troops and militia seized the provincial governor’s office and key military bases and oil fields as tensions boiled over following a Kurdish vote for independence last month.

“Federal police units took control of the Bai Hassan and Havana oil fields,” north of the city of Kirkuk, a statement said.

Kurdish technicians had halted operations at the two fields and left the wells on Monday, an oil ministry official in Baghdad said.

The fields accounted for around 250,000 barrels per day of the 650,000 bpd that the autonomous Kurdish region exported under its own auspices, outside the purview of Baghdad, and their loss is a major blow to its revenues.

The regional government took over the two fields in 2014 when federal troops withdrew in the face of the jihadists’ lightning advance through areas north and west of Baghdad.

The autonomous Kurdish region is already going through its worst economic crisis after Baghdad severed its air links to the outside world and neighbouring Iran closed its border to trade in oil products.

Kirkuk lies outside the autonomous region but forms part of a swathe of historically Kurdish-majority territory that the Kurds want to incorporate in it against the wishes of Baghdad.

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Iraqi forces retake the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in escalating dispute with Kurds

October 17, 2017

 


Iraqi forces drive through an oil field as they head towards the city of Kirkuk on October 16, 2017. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)
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 October 16 at 7:11 PM
Washington Post
 Iraqi forces took control of the contested city of Kirkuk on Monday, as two U.S. allies faced off over territory and oil in the wake of the Kurdish region’s independence vote last month.The Iraqi forces recaptured military bases, an oil field and other infrastructure held by the Kurdish troops, saying their aim was to return to positions around Kirkuk they held before fleeing in the face of an Islamic State push in 2014. But in the end they went further, entering the city itself.

Iraqi officers lowered Kurdistan’s flag and raised Iraq’s flag at the provincial council building in oil-rich Kirkuk, the center of a fierce dispute between the Kurds and Baghdad. Cars packed roads out of the city as some residents rushed to leave. Others who had been unhappy with Kurdish rule took to the streets to celebrate.

The United States, which trained both the Kurdish and Iraqi forces, seemed to be left in a bind as the crisis escalated between two partners in the fight against the Islamic State.

“We’re not taking sides,” President Trump said at a news conference in the Rose Garden, adding that the United States had a “very good relationship” with the central government and with Kurds.

Iraqi forces took control Oct. 16 of the airport and other key sites previously under Kurdish control in the northern city of Kirkuk. A Kurdish independence vote in September spurred clashes. (Reuters)

“We never should have been there,” he said, referring to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, “but we’re not taking sides.”

A Kurdish referendum on independence last month intensified a decades-old dispute between the two sides. The Iraqi government, the United States, Turkey and Iran opposed the vote. For Baghdad, it added urgency to a need to reassert its claims to Kirkuk province, which has around 10 percent of the country’s oil reserves.

A senior administration official in Washington said there was no daylight between Trump’s “not taking sides” comment and the U.S. Embassy, which Monday morning said it supported the “peaceful reassertion” of the Baghdad government’s authority “in all disputed areas,” in line with the constitution.

“The president and the embassy in Baghdad are saying the same thing,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under White House ground rules. “We support joint administration between the central government and the regional government.”

Conflict “will only serve the interests of the enemies of Iraq — including ISIS and the Iranian regime,” the official said.

The skirmish between forces that fought together to oust Islamic State militants from their stronghold of Mosul presented a major distraction for Iraqi forces, which were due to begin an operation in the last pockets the insurgents control near the Syrian border.

Shortly after Trump spoke, the Kurdistan government’s representative in Washington, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, called the U.S. position “bewildering,” and she echoed Irbil’s charges that Iran was already benefiting from the upheaval.

Iraqi boys gather on the road as they welcome Iraqi security forces members, who continue to advance in military vehicles in Kirkuk on Oct. 16, 2017. (Stringer/Reuters)

Two men emblematic of ­Iranian-backed militia influence in Iraq stood alongside counterterrorism officers as the Iraqi flag was raised in Kirkuk. One was Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the country’s powerful Badr Organization. The other, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, has been designated for sanctions by the U.S. Treasury for his links to Kitaeb Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of the Iranian military.

“How can you not take sides?” Rahman said. “This is Iranian-backed militia, using American weapons, to attack an ally of the United States. I’m bewildered by the U.S. government position. Not just President Trump’s statement, but statements from the [Defense Department] and others, trying to downplay what’s been happening in Kirkuk.”

The militias, she said, “have Abram tanks, artillery, they have deployed in their thousands.” She and her government are particularly disappointed, she said, “in light of what the administration has been saying since Thursday,” when Trump announced new sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and described “Iran’s role as a destabilizer in the Middle East.”

Despite U.S. claims of efforts to set up negotiations — and Trump’s comments Monday — Washington’s position before and after the referendum has been that the Kurds must yield to Baghdad, Rahman said. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi “has decided to impose his will by force,” she said. “We will counter this. We will push back. The potential for all-out war is there.”

“I hope we haven’t reached the point of no return,” Rahman said. “If we do, it will be catastrophic for everyone,” including “the United States and others who have invested so much political capital, as well as treasure and blood,” in Iraq.

Although the Kurdish people “do not want to be in that space,” she said, “we are survivors.”

As well as highlighting the deep rifts in Iraq, the confrontation has also exposed splits among the Kurds. Kurdish factions were divided on whether to allow in Iraqi troops or stand their ground, with some Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga, ordered to give up their posts.

The Iraqi government said it “carefully planned and coordinated” the return of federal forces to Kirkuk with local security forces in advance. But it accused other Kurdish forces from outside the province of sending reinforcements to “harass and obstruct” federal forces.

Some elements of Kurdistan’s Patriotic Union party, or PUK, whose forces dominate in the area, agreed to withdraw in coordination with Baghdad. But the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party, or KDP, opposed a deal.

The general command of Kurdistan’s peshmerga slammed PUK officials for a “major historic betrayal of Kurdistan” by handing over positions, and the militia vowed to fight.

The KDP-affiliated Kurdistan Region Security Council said it destroyed five U.S.-supplied Humvees used in the advance by Iraq’s popular mobilization units, an umbrella group containing Iranian-backed militias that fight as part of Iraq’s security forces.

A video shared online showed six bodies of what appeared to be Kurdish peshmerga soldiers lying by a roadside near Iraqi vehicles. One wore the uniform of a lieutenant colonel.

“This is the result of disobedience of Masoud Barzani,” said the Iraqi fighter who was filming, referring to the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan and the KDP.

A curfew was imposed on the city Monday night as Iraqi forces announced they had completed their “first phase.”

Still in the hands of Kurds were swaths of disputed territories in other provinces.

DeYoung reported from Washington. Alex Horton in Washington contributed to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraqi-forces-retake-the-oil-rich-city-of-kirkuk-in-escalating-dispute-with-kurds/2017/10/16/39df8f4a-b294-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.4f6de2870e88

The battle of Kirkuk: why it matters

October 17, 2017

AFP and AP

© Ahmad Al-Rubaye, AFP | Iraqi forces advance towards the centre of Kirkuk during an operation, on October 16, 2017.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-17

Three weeks after Iraqi forces region held a referendum on independence, Iraqi forces entered the disputed city of Kirkuk, forcing Kurdish fighters to withdraw. Here’s what you need to know:

Why?

Kirkuk has found itself at the heart of a long-running dispute between Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region and its central government that reached fever pitch after Kurdish authorities staged a non-binding independence vote in late September.

The city sits on the edge of an expansive oil field that can be tapped for about a half million barrels per day. And while Iraq‘s oil revenues are supposed to be shared, disputes among the provinces have often held up transfers, leading parties to find leverage in holding the fields.

When Iraq’s armed forces crumbled in the face of an advance by Islamic State group in 2014, Kurdish forces moved into Kirkuk and secured the city and its surrounding oil wells. The city falls 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside the Kurds’ autonomous region.

Baghdad insisted the city and its province be returned, but matters came to a head when the Kurdish authorities expanded their referendum to include Kirkuk. To Baghdad, it looked like a provocation that underscored what it sees as unchecked Kurdish expansionism. The city of more than 1 million is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, as well as Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

How did it happen?

Swiftly. Iraq’s army, its anti-terrorism forces and the federal police began their operations before dawn Monday. By late afternoon, they were in control of several oil and gas facilities, the airport, and a military base.

Kurdish officials accused the Iraqi army of carrying out a “major, multi-prong attack,” and reported heavy clashes on the city’s outskirts, but a spokesman for Iraq’s state-backed militias said they encountered little resistance. The vastly outmatched Kurdish fighters withdrew from the city en masse, and journalists were left to wander into abandoned barracks and administrative buildings.

Local police forces remained in the city at the invitation of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi who called on civil servants to stay and serve their constituents. He has said he wants to share administration of the city with the Kurdish authorities and called on Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, to serve under the umbrella of Iraq’s unified military command.

“We have only acted to fulfill our constitutional duty and extend the federal authority and impose security and protect the national wealth in this city,” said Abadi.

Abadi, in a bid to allay concerns of sectarian strife, promised the country’s predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces would not enter Kirkuk, but Associated Press reporters saw Turkmen militiamen taking up posts in the western part of the city. The Iranian-sponsored militias are viewed with deep suspicion by Iraq’s Kurds, who see them as a policy implement of Tehran that threatens demographic change.

Thousands of revelers waving the Iraqi Turkmen and Iraqi national flags were celebrating the transfer of power in downtown Kirkuk by nightfall, but thousands more were fleeing the city with their belongings to the neighboring Kurdish region, fearful of national or militia rule.

Friction between U.S. allies?

The dispute over Kirkuk pits two close U.S. allies in the war against the Islamic State group against each other. The U.S. has armed, trained and provided vital air support to both sides in their shared struggle and called the frictions a distraction against the most important fight.

But for parts of Monday, Iraqi and Kurdish forces turned their weapons against each other. The Kurdistan Region Security Council said early Monday that the peshmerga destroyed at least five U.S.-supplied Humvees being used by Iraq’s state-sanctioned militias.

It’s the timing of the dispute that underscores how fragile Iraq is now. It was only three months ago that the peshmerga, federal forces, and the PMF were maneuvering alongside each other to recapture Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from IS, and two weeks ago that they expelled them from Hawija, their last bastion in northern Iraq. With IS now defeated there, the danger for Iraq will now likely come from its own divisions.

What’s next?

It will take time for Iraq and its Kurdish region to restore amicable relations after the strains of the past three weeks. Baghdad wants the Kurds to disavow the overwhelmingly in-favor referendum result. This has been refused by Irbil, the Kurdish capital.

Talks between the two sides are now likely to focus on easing sanctions against the Kurdish region, including those on the banking sector and against international flights.

There is considerable distrust between Baghdad and Irbil dating back to Saddam Hussein’s wars against the Kurdish region and forced Arabization of some of its cities.

But the two sides also rely on each other, especially in fragile economic times. The Kurdish region is responsible for up to a quarter of Iraq’s oil production, while Baghdad controls the currency and several pipelines in and out of north Iraq. The Kurdish region is presently entitled to 17% of Iraq’s federal budget, of which the Kurds are expected to try to negotiate a bigger share, in addition to greater autonomy.

Inside the Kurdish region, elections are slated to be held next month and the two major parties will be looking to leverage the crisis to win votes. It is no accident, analysts say, that President Masoud Barzani, whose term expired in 2015, slated the referendum two months before elections. He hopes to cast himself as a visionary for the Kurds, they say, even if he can’t deliver on the dream of independence.

(AP)

Iraqi forces seize Kirkuk governor’s office, lower Kurdish flag

October 16, 2017

AFP

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© Ahmed Al-Rubaye, AFP | Iraqi forces use a tractor to damage a poster of Iraqi Kurdish president Masoud Barzani on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk on October 16, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-10-16

Iraqi government forces captured the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk on Monday, responding to a Kurdish vote on independence with a bold lightning strike that transforms the balance of power in the country.

A convoy of armoured vehicles from Iraq’s elite US-trained Counter-Terrorism Force seized the provincial government headquarters in the centre of Kirkuk on Monday afternoon, residents said, less than a day after the operation began.

A dozen armoured vehicles arrived at the building and took up positions nearby alongside local police, residents said. They pulled down the Kurdish flag and left the Iraqi flag flying.

We’re now driving in long line of cars, slowly from Kirkuk towards Erbil. Many civilians have packed their stuff in matter of minutes. pic.twitter.com/KzdHACrMk7

Everybody here on Kurdish side outside Kirkuk in state of shock. Peshmergas can’t believe Kirkuk has fallen in one day. pic.twitter.com/7cy2qOPvV4

View image on Twitter

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered that the Iraqi flag be hoisted over Kirkuk and other disputed areas claimed by both the central government and the Kurds, who defied Baghdad to hold a vote for independence on September 25.

Baghdad described the advance as largely unopposed, and urged the Kurdish security forces known as Peshmerga to cooperate in keeping the peace. The Peshmerga said Baghdad would be made to pay “a heavy price” for triggering “war on the Kurdistan people”.

Washington called for calm on both sides, seeking to avert an all-out conflict between Baghdad and the Kurds that would open a whole new front in Iraq’s 14-year-old civil war and potentially draw in regional powers such as Turkey and Iran.

A resident inside Kirkuk said members of the ethnic Turkmen community in the city of 1 million people were celebrating, driving in convoys with Iraqi flags and firing shots in the air. Residents feared this could lead to clashes with Kurds.

The fall of Kirkuk came as Turkey announced it is closing its air space to flights to and from the Iraqi Kurdish region.

The overnight advance was the most decisive step Baghdad has taken yet to block the independence bid of the Kurds, who have governed an autonomous part of Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and voted three weeks ago to secede.

Kirkuk, one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse cities in Iraq, is located just outside the autonomous Kurdish zone. Kurds consider it the heart of their homeland and say it was cleansed of Kurds and settled with Arabs under Saddam to secure control of the oil that was the source of Iraq’s wealth.

3- Friday night, we passed by one oil field claimed now by Baghdad. It’s called Bai Hassan &it’s huge. Have a look pic.twitter.com/TaN11os80e

State TV said Iraqi forces had also entered Tuz Khurmato, a flashpoint town where there had been clashes between Kurds and mainly Shiite Muslims of Turkmen ethnicity.

The “government of Abadi bears the main responsibility for triggering war on the Kurdistan people, and will be made to pay a heavy price”, the Peshmerga command said in a statement, cited by Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani’s assistant Hemin Hawrami.

Washington, which works closely with both the federal forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga to fight against the Islamic State group, called on “all parties to immediately cease military action and restore calm”, according to a US Embassy statement.

“ISIS (Islamic State) remains the true enemy of Iraq, and we urge all parties to remain focused on finishing the liberation of their country from this menace.”

The military action in Kirkuk helped spur a jump in world oil prices on Monday.

Oilfields near Kirkuk halted production, but Baghdad said it would quickly restart it. “We’ve got confirmation from military commanders that it’s a matter of a very short time,” a senior Baghdad oil official told Reuters. “Our brave forces will regain control of all Kirkuk oilfields and then we will restart production immediately.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Iraqi forces retake base, airport, oil field from Kurds

October 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Iraqi forces flash the sign for victory as they advance towards the southern outskirts of Kirkuk on October 16, 2017

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi forces made rapid progress on Monday in their operation against Kurdish fighters in the disputed Kirkuk province, seizing a key military base, an airport and an oil field, commanders said.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC), which groups all pro-government forces, did not specify whether there had been significant clashes in the operation, but the speed of the advance suggested Kurdish fighters were so far withdrawing without resistance.

Iraqi troops and allied forces launched the operation overnight after tensions between Baghdad and the Kurds spiralled into an armed standoff following last month’s referendum on Kurdish independence.

The JOC said its forces had retaken the K1 military base northwest of Kirkuk, the military airport east of the city and the Baba Gargar oil field, one of six in the disputed region.

Iraq’s central government had earlier demanded the Kurds withdraw from military facilities and oil fields they had seized in recent years, mainly during the fightback against the Islamic State group.

The oil fields are particularly contested.

Kurdish forces have been in control of six fields in the Kirkuk region providing some 340,000 of the 550,000 barrels per day exported by the regional administration.

Three of the fields — Khormala, Bay Hassan and Havana — produce some 250,000 barrels per day for export and are directly controlled by the Kurds.

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.

The JOC said that along with Baba Gargar, Iraqi forces had regained control of the local NOC headquarters.

Peshmerga forces loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a political party linked to Iraqi President Fuad Masum, who is himself a Kurd, were reported to be withdrawing from areas under their control after the operation was launched.

Pro-PUK forces were deployed south of the city, including at oil fields, while fighters loyal to the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), linked to Iraqi Kurd leader Massud Barzani who initiated the referendum, were deployed to the north.

Iraqi troops advance on Kurds-controlled oil fields in Kirkuk

October 16, 2017

Iraqi forces have moved towards oil fields and a military base held by Kurdish forces near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The US, which backs both sides, urged their allies to deescalate the explosive situation

Irak Armee startet Operation in Kirkuk (Getty Images/AFP/A. Al-Rubaye)

Iraqi security forces and allied Shiite militia clashed with Kurdish peshmerga forces early Monday south of Kirkuk, an oil-rich area at the heart of disputes between the two sides.

Tensions between the two sides have escalated since the Kurds overwhelmingly voted last month for an independent state in a non-binding referendum, which controversially included disputed territories such as Kirkuk.

Baghdad began advancing to take control of oil fields and a strategically-important military base in Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk, the Kurds said.

“Iraqi forces and Popular Mobilization are now advancing from Taza, south of Kirkuk, in a major operation; their intention is to enter the city and take over (the) K1 base and oil fields,” said the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Security Council.

Popular Mobilizations Units (PMU) are Iran-backed Shiite militia allied with the Iraqi government.

Footage today shows Iranian-backed PMF deployed near Maktab Khalid, SW of Kirkuk, using US equipment for attack on Kirkuk.  pic.twitter.com/bajU2YPvzp

STATEMENT: Iraqi forces/PMF attacked Peshmerga forces in South Kirkuk in operation using US equipment, incl. Abrams tanks.  pic.twitter.com/C95Qfrb77y

View image on Twitter

Columns of Iraqi troops and PMU could be seen heading north from the town of Taza Khurmatu, which is located south of the city of Kirkuk.

Iraqi state TV reported that Iraqi forces had taken control of “vast areas” in Kirkuk province without opposition from Kurdish peshmerga.  Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered security forces “to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with the population of the city and the peshmerga.” It added that it had instructed the PMU to stay out of the city.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said its forces had taken control of several roads, an industrial zone southwest of Kirkuk, an oil facility, power station and police station.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council claimed peshmerga had destroyed several US-supplied Humvees belonging to the PMU.

The US Defense Department, which has supplied and trained both the peshmerga and Iraqi army, urged its two allies in the war against the “Islamic State” (IS) “to avoid additional escalatory actions.” It added that it opposed destabilising actions that distract from the battle against IS militants.

The Iraqi troops and the Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been engaged in a standoff since Saturday, when they took positions on opposite banks of a river on the southern outskirts of the city of Kirkuk.

The Kurdish forces were given a deadline of 2 a.m. local time Sunday (2300 UTC Saturday) to surrender their positions and return to their pre-June 2014 positions.

Kirkuk in Kurdish hands since 2014

Read moreWhat is the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum?

Abadi has demanded that Kurdish leaders disavow the September 25 referendum but the Kurds have rejected the demand.

Baghdad called the referendum “anti-constitutional.” Turkey, Iran and the United States were all against the vote.

After the referendum, the Iraqi parliament asked Abadi to use armed force to retake control of Kirkuk, which is inhabited by Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Turkmen and Arabs.

The Kurdish peshmerga have controlled Kirkuk since 2014 when it prevented the province’s oil fields from falling into the hands of IS after the Iraqi army collapsed. With Baghdad weak, the Kurds moved to expand territory under its control outside the three provinces that officially make up the Kurdistan region.

The Kurds and Baghdad have long been in dispute over oil resources and revenue sharing.

‘Declaration of war’

Baghdad said on Sunday fighters from Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were present in Kirkuk among Kurdish peshmerga forces, in what it said amounted to a “declaration of war.”

“It is impossible to remain silent” faced with “a declaration of war towards Iraqis and government forces,” the National Security Council headed by the Iraqi prime minister said in a statement.

The PKK affiliated ANF News Agency said its fighters had been called to mobilize and form a “defensive line to protect the people.”

The PKK has close ties with some Iraqi Kurdish parties, particularly the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

A PKK presence in Kirkuk would draw the ire of Turkey, which supports its ethnic cousins the Turkmen in the province.

ap/rc (Reuters, AFP)

Iraq says it has retaken areas near Kirkuk — Iraqi troops have “burnt lots of houses and killed many people”

October 16, 2017

The Latest on Iraq, where federal forces have attacked the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk (all times local):

10 a.m.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry says federal forces have captured a power plant and a police station south of Kirkuk after what Kurdish officials described as a major assault aimed at driving Kurdish forces from the disputed city.

Monday’s brief statement from the Interior Ministry, on “Operation Impose Security on Kirkuk,” provided no details on the fighting or casualties, saying only that federal forces had taken control of industrial areas near the city.

Kurdish officials say federal forces launched a major assault south of the city that caused “lots of casualties,” without providing exact figures. It was not immediately possible to independently confirm their claims.

Tensions around Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city claimed by the Kurdish autonomous region and the central government, have soared since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a referendum condemned as unconstitutional by Baghdad.

Both the federal forces and the Kurdish forces are close U.S. allies that have been armed and trained as part of the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group.

Image result for Iraqi forces, kirkuk, Kurdish, photos

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9:45 a.m.

The U.S.-led coalition is urging Iraqi and Kurdish forces to “avoid escalatory actions” after federal forces launched an assault south of the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, sparking clashes with the Kurds.

U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman, tweeted that the coalition is “closely monitoring sit. near Kirkuk; urge all sides to avoid escalatory actions. Finish the fight vs. #ISIS, biggest threat to all.”

The U.S.-led coalition has armed and trained federal and Kurdish forces in the battle against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, which is still ongoing despite the retaking of the northern city of Mosul earlier this year.

Iraqi forces launched a major operation south of Kirkuk late Sunday and have captured industrial areas near the city. Kurdish officials say their forces have sustained casualties.

Tensions have been soaring since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a non-binding referendum rejected by the central government as well as the United States.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

9:15 a.m.

An Iraqi Kurdish commander says federal forces have seized an oil and gas company and other industrial areas south of Kirkuk in fighting with Kurdish forces that caused “lots of casualties.”

Brig. Gen. Bahzad Ahmed, a spokesman for Kurdish forces, said Monday the Iraqi troops have “burnt lots of houses and killed many people” in Toz Khormato and Daquq, south of the disputed city. He said Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, have “destroyed one or two of their tanks.”

His claims could not be independently verified.

Kurdish officials say federal forces launched an assault south of Kirkuk late Sunday, aiming to capture a military base and surrounding oil wells.

The multi-ethnic city has been at the heart of a long-running dispute between the Kurds and the federal government that escalated following last month’s non-binding Kurdish vote for independence.

The U.S. has armed and trained Iraqi and Kurdish forces, both of which are at war with the Islamic State group.

———

8:30 a.m.

Iraqi Kurdish officials say federal forces and state-backed militias have launched a “major, multi-pronged” attack aimed at retaking the disputed northern city of Kirkuk.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council says in a statement Monday that Kurdish forces known as peshmerga have destroyed at least five U.S.-supplied Humvees being used by the state-sanctioned militias following the “unprovoked attack” south of the city.

Tensions have soared since the Kurds held a non-binding referendum last month in which they voted for independence from Iraq. The central government, along with neighboring Turkey and Iran, rejected the vote.

The United States has supplied and trained Iraqi federal forces and the peshmerga, both of which are fighting the Islamic State group. The U.S. also opposed the referendum.

Iraqi and Kurdish Forces Face Off Near Kirkuk

October 16, 2017

Image result for Iraqi forces, kirkuk, Kurdish, photos

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi forces said Monday they had taken control of roads and infrastructure from Kurdish fighters near the disputed city of Kirkuk as tensions soar following a controversial independence referendum.

Image result for Iraqi forces, kirkuk, Kurdish, photos

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, which groups all pro-government forces, said it was making progress in its operation to “restore security” in Kirkuk.

Iraqi forces are aiming to retake military bases and oil fields which Kurdish peshmerga fighters took during the fightback against the Islamic State jihadist group (IS).

Central government forces took control of two bridges, two roads and an industrial zone to the southwest of Kirkuk as well as gas facilities, a power station, a refinery and a police station, the JOC said.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces exchanged artillery fire early Monday south of the city, after government forces began a “major operation” in the oil-rich province.

The offensive follows a standoff between Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army prompted by the 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.

Both sides are key US allies in the battle against the jihadists, and the crisis has raised fears of fresh chaos just as Iraqi forces are on the verge of routing IS from the last territory it controls in the country.

Image result for Iraqi forces, kirkuk, Kurdish, photos

Kurds ‘reject’ Baghdad’s demand to nullify referendum results

October 15, 2017

Leaders of Iraq’s Kurdistan region have renewed their negotiation offer to Baghdad but said they would not cancel the outcome of an independence vote. Kurdish officials also snubbed “military threats” over Kirkuk.

Massud Barzani and Fuad Massum (Getty Images/AFP/S. Mohammed)

A meeting between Iraqi President Fuad Masum and his Kurdish counterpart Masud Barzani was held in Sulaymaniyah after a deadline set by the Iraqi government for peshmerga fighters to surrender expired on Sunday, Iraqi media reported.

After meeting with Iraqi officials on Sunday, Barzani said his government had rejected Baghdad’s demand to cancel outcome of independence vote and pledged to defend the autonomous region in case of an attack.

Kurdish leaders, however, renewed their offer to resolve the crisis peacefully with Baghdad, Barzani’s aide Hemin Hawrami said on Twitter.

“There will not be any unilateral negotiation with Baghdad by either PUK or KDP. If there be any negotiation with Baghdad it will be a joint delegation representing all Kurdistan parties. KDP/PUK reject any demands to nullify the referendum results. Refuse preconditions,” Hawrami said.

There will not be any unilateral negotiation with Baghdad by either PUK or KDP. If there be any negotiation with Baghdad it will be a joint delegation representing all Kurdistan parties. KDP/PUK reject any demands to nullify the referendum results. Refuse preconditions

Iran’s mediation efforts

According to a Kurdish official, Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, also arrived in Iraq’s Kurdistan region to defuse tensions between Kurdish authorities and Baghdad following the Kurdish independence referendum.

Iran’s Tasnim news agency, without quoting a source, said Sunday that Iran closed its border gates with northern Iraq “considering the development in Iraq’s Kurdistan.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry later denied reports about the border closure.

“As we announced earlier, we blocked our airspace to the Kurdish region on a request from the central government of Iraq, and as far as I know, nothing new has happened in this area,” the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi as saying.

Peshmerga forces in Iraq (Reuters/M. Bosch)Kurdish fighters have reportedly rejected the Iraqi warning to withdraw from Kirkuk

Escalating crisis

The Kurdish forces were given a deadline of 2 a.m. local time Sunday (2300 GMT Saturday) to surrender their positions and return to their pre-June 2014 positions. Unconfirmed local media reports say the deadline has been extended for another 24 hours.

At the scene, a photographer with Agence France-Presse reported seeing armored vehicles bearing the Iraqi national flag on the banks of a river on the southern outskirts of the city of Kirkuk.

“Our forces are not moving and are now waiting for orders from the general staff,” an Iraqi army officer told AFP.

Facing the Iraqi forces on the opposite bank of the river were Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

On Friday, Kurdish authorities said they had sent thousands more troops to Kirkuk to confront Iraqi “threats.”

Reuters news agency said Sunday Kurdish Peshmerga fighters had rejected the Iraqi warning to withdraw from a strategic junction south of Kirkuk.

Tensions soar after ‘illegal’ referendum

Tensions between the two allies in the war against the “Islamic State” (IS) have been escalating since a Kurdish independence referendum last month that Baghdad has called “anti-constitutional.”

The Kurds overwhelmingly voted for an independent state in the September 25 referendum.

Read moreOpinion: Kurds find few friends in independence referendum

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (C) is pictured in Mosul, Iraq, July 9, 2017 Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERSAbadi has repeatedly denied any plans to attack the Kurds

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demanded that Kurdish leaders annul the referendum vote and called for a dialogue within the framework of the constitution.

After the referendum, the Iraqi parliament asked the prime minister to use armed force to retake control of oil-rich Kirkuk, claimed by both Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.

The Kurdish peshmerga prevented the province’s oil fields from falling into the hands of IS jihadis in 2014.

The Kurdish regional government included the disputed oil-rich province in the independence referendum, reflecting the Kurds’ historical claim to the area. Baghdad had controlled Kirkuk before IS pushed out the Iraqi army three years ago.

Read moreWhat is the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum?

‘No plans for a military operation’

Abadi has repeatedly denied any plans to attack the Kurds, insisting Thursday that he was “not going… to make war on our Kurdish citizens.”

But thousands of heavily armed troops and members of the Popular Mobilization paramilitary force, formed mainly by Iranian-trained Shiite groups, have taken position around Kirkuk.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters also rejected a 2100 GMT deadline from the paramilitary force to withdraw from a strategic junction south of Kirkuk city, Reuters news agency reported, citing a Kurdish security official. The strategic position north of the Maktab Khalid junction controls access to an air base and some of the oil fields located in the region.

shs, ap/sms (AFP, Reuters)

Kurds block Iraqi forces access to Kirkuk’s oil fields, airbase

October 15, 2017

Reuters

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Kurdish Peshmerga fighters rejected a warning from an Iraqi paramilitary force to withdraw from a strategic junction south of Kirkuk, which controls the access to some of the region’s main oilfields, a Kurdish security official told Reuters on Sunday.

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter is seen in the Southwest of Kirkuk, Iraq October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed

Meanwhile, Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani arrived in Iraq’s Kurdistan region for talks about the escalating crisis between the Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi government following last month’s Kurdish independence referendum.

Soleimani is the commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, a military corp providing training and weapons to Iraqi paramilitary groups backing the Shi‘ite-led government in Baghdad, known as Popular Mobilisation.

He arrived in the Kurdish region Saturday, a Kurdish official said.

Popular Mobilisation had given the Peshmerga until midnight local time (2100 GMT Saturday) to leave a position north of the Maktab Khalid junction, an official from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Security Council said.

Ali al-Hussaini, a spokesman for the paramilitary groups known as Hashid Shaabi in Arabic, told Reuters the deadline had expired without giving indications about their next move.

“We are waiting for new orders, no extension is expected,” he said.

The Kurdish position north of the junction controls the access to an important airbase and Bai Hassan, one of the main crude oil fields of the region, the KRG official said.

The city, the airbase and their immediate surroundings, including the oilfields, are under Kurdish control.

There were no clashes reported 14 hours after the deadline, but a resident said dozens of young Kurds took up arms and were deployed in the streets of Kirkuk with machine guns as the news of the warning spread.

The KRG and the Shi‘ite-led central government in Baghdad are at loggerheads since the Sept. 25 vote, which delivered an overwhelming yes for Kurdish independence.

Kurdish authorities said on Friday they had sent thousands more troops to Kirkuk to confront Iraqi “threats.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly denied any plans to attack the Kurds.

Popular Mobilisation is a separate force from the regular army and officially reports to Abadi. It is deployed alongside the army south and west of Kirkuk.

Kirkuk, a city of more than one million people, lies just outside KRG territory but Peshmerga forces were stationed there in 2014 when Iraqi security forces collapsed in the face of an Islamic State onslaught. The Peshmerga deployment prevented Kirkuk’s oilfields from falling into jihadist hands.

The Baghdad central government has taken a series of steps to isolate the autonomous Kurdish region since its overwhelming vote for independence in the referendum, including banning international flights from taking off or landing there.

Writing by Maher Chmaytelli, editing by G Crosse and Louise Heavens

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