Iraqi forces seize oil-city of Kirkuk from Kurds

Kurdish Peshmerga commander in Kirkuk Huseyin Yazdanpena

Baghdad is demanding that Kurdish forces hand over oil fields, an air base and other infrastructure in Kirkuk, Ahmed Al-Askari, head of the energy committee at the Kirkuk provincial council, said Sunday by phone.

Monday's Peshmerga statement accused a group within the PUK of "treason" for assisting Baghdad's advance. "They're fighting to control the oil, and the victims are us, the residents of Kirkuk", he said. Iran and Turkey, both with their own restive Kurdish minorities, led regional opposition to the referendum and on Monday, Turkey's foreign ministry issued a statement stressing the need for Iraqi unity.

The federal government has sent troops into areas around Kirkuk and soldiers haven't entered the city boundaries, Kareem, the governor, said. He feared the referendum, guaranteed to alienate all the Kurds'allies, would turn out to a political error with similar calamitous consequences.

The exodus in buses and cars towards Arbil and Sulaimaniyah, the two main cities of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, created traffic jams on roads leading out of Kirkuk.

Both the central government and the Kurds share an interest in keeping oil flowing from northern Iraq, so markets would probably calm down quickly after any interruption in these exports, according to Manaar's Altaie.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council said early Monday that the peshmerga destroyed at least five USA -supplied Humvees being used by Iraq's state-sanctioned militias.

The exchanges took place around the town of Tuz Khurmatu, where there have been periodic clashes between Kurdish forces, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, and Turkmen residents, who are mainly Shiites.

The troops were ordered to "impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with Kurdish Peshmerga", Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on live television.

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 Barzani's assistant Hemin Hawrami.

"We call on all parties to immediately cease military action and restore calm while we continue to work with officials from the central and regional governments to reduce tensions and avoid and futher clashes", the United States embassy said.

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"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".

"We've got confirmation from military commanders that it's a matter of a very short time", a senior Baghdad oil official told Reuters.

Bayan Sami Rahman, the Kurdish regional government's representative in the United States, tweeted a plea for Washington to "use (its) leadership role to prevent war".

The conflict in Iraq helped spur a jump in world oil prices on Monday.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters ride in a vehicule in the Southwest of Kirkuk, Iraq October 13, 2017.

As well as heavily armed federal troops, members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation forces, which are dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, have massed around Kirkuk.

It has always been at the center of disputes between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The Kurds assumed control of Kirkuk, in the heart of a major oil-producing region, in the summer of 2014, when IS militants swept across northern Iraq and the country's armed forces crumbled.

Others grabbed weapons and descended into the streets to help defend Kirkuk against what the Kurdish Region Security Council described as "a major, multi-pronged operation" meant to enter the city and take over a key airbase and oil fields. Representatives of both parties were taking part in the talks. While Barzani's KDP strongly supported the independence referendum, some PUK figures were more circumspect.

"It's comical, really", said a Kurdish official with the KDP, talking about USA silence given the presence of Iran-supported militias in the advance.

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