ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – Clashes erupted on Saturday evening between the Shia militia Hashd al-Shaabi and Peshmerga forces in the town of Khurmatu, southern Kirkuk Province, after months of ceasefire.
The clashes began after Hashd al-Shaabi militiamen attacked a Kurdish military base in the town.
"So far, five Peshmerga are dead, and five others wounded while 12 Hashd al-Shaabi militiamen have been killed and 20 injured in Khurmatu during Sunday's clashes," Kurdistan24 reporter Hunar Ahmad said.
Additionally, Peshmerga Commander Qaraham Sheikh Kamal told Kurdistan24, “There are different groups in the Hashd al-Shaabi militia; the militia consists of 50 groups,” he said. “Some of them want to create instability and conflicts between Kurds and the militia.”
Peshmerga forces have advanced in Khurmatu and control more than three Hashd al-Shaabi bases, Kamal added.
“There is an external hand involved that has instigated clashes in the town,” he stated.
Kamal also noted that the Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani is aware of the situation and has contacted Peshmerga Minister Jabbar Yawar. He also mentioned that the international coalition in the Kurdistan Region is aware of the clashes as well.
Moreover, Deputy Peshmerga Minister Anwar Haji Osman told Kurdistan24 that on late Saturday evening, a Hashd al-Shaabi militiaman threw a grenade at the house of a Peshmerga commander, which Osman believes has ignited the clashes.
Regarding the redeployment of Peshmerga in Khurmatu, Osman said that there are enough Peshmerga in the town.
He believes Hashd al-Shaabi must leave as they do not belong in the town, and Khurmatu is a Kurdish populated territory. “They should move either by agreement or by force,” Osman said.
Osman also explained that there should be a decision on who the leader of Khurmatu will be.
Commenting on what the militia wants, he stated, “Hashd al-Shabi desires to occupy the town that’s what they want.”
Kurdish youth who volunteer to fight alongside Peshmerga against the militia voiced their concern to Kurdistan24, “Either we finish them, or they have to finish us because they often create instability in the town after several agreements.”
Additionally, the Khurmatu-Baghdad road has been controlled by Hashd al-Shaabi, who arrest Kurdish civilians that pass from both sides, according to a Kurdistan24 reporter.
“Two Iraqi helicopters shelled Khurmatu health center and flew over Kurdish neighborhoods,” the reporter stated. “The militia uses heavy weapons against Peshmerga, including tanks.”
He also revealed that more militias are being deployed around Khurmatu, with the number estimated to be about 4,000 militants.
Some of Khurmatu’s citizens expressed their complaints about Hashd al-Shaabi, stating, “We want this fight to be decisive; either we have to stay in the town, or the militia does.”
In an interview with Kurdistan24, Mahmoud Sangawi, a senior Peshmerga Commander, noted that some Hashd al-Shaabi militiamen do not want to be sent to areas to combat the Islamic State (IS); therefore, they want to create instability in Khurmatu to remain in the town.
Reporting by Hunar Ahmad, Hemin Dalo, Hoshmand Qadir and Mewan Dolamari
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany