Tuz Khurmatu, (K24) - Intermittent clashes between Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Shia Hashd Al-Shaabi militias continued for a third day in Tuz Khurmatu, a multi-ethnic town of some 60,000 people, 80 kilometers southeast of Kirkuk, in Saladin Province. Tensions remain high in the town, as civilians on both sides are engaging in clashes as well.
A K24 reporter in Tuz Khurmatu says Hashd al-Shaabi militants killed a member of local Kurdish Asayish (security) and a teenager during clashes on Sunday. The number of dead thus has risen to 11 since Wednesday when three Hashd militants were killed by Peshmerga forces in clashes at a checkpoint between the city of Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu. More than 20 others, mostly civilians, were wounded.
Although the exact circumstances of the confrontation remain vague, the head of local Kurdish Asayish, Moqadem Sarukh Ahmad says Shia militants passed through the checkpoint where Peshmerga forces refused permission to them for unclear reasons. The following day, on Thursday a spree of violence cost the lives of six more lives, including five Kurdish civilians and one member of Asayish in Tuz Khurmatu, where Hashd militants are based in the southern Shia-Turkomen majority neighborhoods. So far, more than 200 houses and shops have been burnt by both sides as civilians are arming themselves amid growing protests and clashes.
On Saturday, Kurds and Shia held a meeting attended by Khalid Shwani, an adviser to the Iraqi President Fuad Masoum, to calm the situation. In accordance with a tacit agreement reached with Kurdish Asayish, on Saturday, Hashd al-Shaabi released 35 civilian Kurds they had kidnapped earlier, but 20 additional people remain in their hands. In response, Peshmerga forces have reportedly arrested a number of Shia militants. As of Sunday evening, it was additionally reported that Peshmerga reinforcements arrived from Kirkuk, including anti-terror units,
In another development, a car carrying a K24 press team came under fire on Sunday while covering local events, but no injuries were reported.
In August 2014, thousands of Shia militias, known as Hashd al-Shaabi (the People's Mobilization Units) arrived in Tuz Khurmatu and the surrounding environs, to help free the besieged Shia Turkomen town of Amirli from the Islamic State (ISIS). After ISIS' defeat, Hash al-Shaabi have remained in control of some areas and have maintained an uneasy relationship with Peshmerga, also stationed in many areas in and around Kirkuk and parts of Salahadin and Diyala Provinces.
(Additional reporting by Hemin Delo and Soran Kameran from Tuz Khurmatu and Kirkuk)