ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – As Iraqi forces, including the Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia, took control of the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk on Monday, the Iraqi government escalated its rhetoric against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Following clashes late on Sunday night, early Monday morning, Iraqi security forces using US-supplied weapons and equipment mobilized around Kirkuk and engaged in skirmishes with Kurdish Peshmerga forces in southern Kirkuk.
In response to the situation in Kirkuk, the Federal Government of Iraq released a statement where it accused “party officials in Erbil and Kirkuk” of gambling with the lives of citizens “to further their personal agendas.”
“All responsibility for violence that occurred falls solely” in their hands, the statement continued, indicating Baghdad does not deny the two sides confronted each other.
The language is a far cry from Iraqi Prime Minister’s Haider al-Abadi’s recent narrative, where he had claimed Iraq would not use its army “against our people or fight a war against our Kurdish citizens.”
The statement deftly did not provide any indication as to who the “ill-intentioned party militias” were and insisted it was only “safeguarding the unity and sovereignty” of Iraq.
Abrams tanks and Shia militia flags were seen rolling into Kirkuk by Monday evening while thousands of civilians fled the city in fear of sectarian repercussions for their participation in the Kurdistan Region’s Sep. 25 independence referendum.
Once the troops were firmly in place within the city’s perimeter, the Iraqi Prime Minister’s media office declared he had called for the Iraqi flag to be raised. The removal of Kurdistan flags over government buildings in Kirkuk and billboards of Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani then followed.
In a contrasting statement to Kurdistan 24, the US mission in Iraq, and the US State Department, shyly reiterated the American stance on Kirkuk was to “support the peaceful exercise of joint administration” by the central government and the KRG, “consistent with the Iraq Constitution in all disputed areas.”
The Iraqi government maintained it was only looking to “secure federal installations, military bases, and vital infrastructure in Kirkuk Province.” It might have, instead, effectively removed the Kurdish presence in the disputed territory.
Only a few days ago, the US affirmed it was “working to avoid any escalation in the confrontation between Iraqi forces and Peshmerga around Kirkuk.” It is less clear now how it expects to “engage with all parties in Iraq to de-escalate tensions” as the city symbolizing Kurdish grievances toward past Iraqi regimes’ sectarian and ethnic policies fell to Iranian-supported troops.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany