ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Thousands of volunteers on Saturday night took up arms in Kirkuk to defend against any possible attack by Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias currently stationed around Kirkuk.
The relationship between Erbil and Baghdad have significantly deteriorated following the Sep. 25 referendum on independence for the Kurdistan Region, which saw about 93 percent of the people voting in favor of secession.
Since then, the Iraqi Parliament, the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary group, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and Iraqi Forces have threatened to retake disputed territories with the use of force.
"The Hashd al-Shaabi along with a number of Iraqi troops are planning to attack Kirkuk. They have asked us to leave; otherwise, they will attack tonight," Peshmerga Commander Kamal Kirkuki told Kurdistan 24 on Saturday. "The Peshmerga won't give up their positions and will not retreat a meter from this land."
"We will give those trying to occupy this land a lesson," Kirkuki warned.
Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim stated the Hashd al-Shaabi's threats of an attack on Kirkuk have nothing to do with the referendum.
"They have attacked some areas around Kirkuk where the vote had not even been held," Karim told Kurdistan 24.
The armed forces mobilized as the Federal Government of Iraq recently called on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to hand over Kirkuk and other KRG-administred disputed territories to Baghdad.
"The Peshmerga destroyed the myth of Da'esh," a volunteer holding a weapon told Kurdistan 24, using the pejorative Arab acronym for the Islamic State (IS). "If others want to test their luck, let them come. We will give them a lesson they will never forget."
While the KRG called on Baghdad to engage in a dialogue to resolve disputes peacefully, it holds the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, responsible for escalating tensions and potentially triggering a war in Kirkuk by deploying troops to the area and threatening the people of the Kurdistan Region.
Editing by G.H. Renaud