Joint Iraqi Forces Advance towards Northern Kirkuk

Casey Dawson
October 16, 2017

Iraqi government forces and Iranian-trained Iraqi paramilitaries are "preparing a major attack" on Kurdish forces in the oil-rich region of Kirkuk and near Mosul in northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said on Wednesday.

General Jabar Yawer, secretary general of the Peshmerga ministry, told AFP news that "there are no PKK forces in Kirkuk, but there are some volunteers who sympathise with the PKK".

Tensions have soared between the central government and Iraqi Kurds since they overwhelmingly voted for independence in a 25 September referendum, whose results Baghdad has demanded be nullified.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Oct 5 that his government wanted to avoid clashes with the Kurds, but Popular Mobilisation leaders have repeatedly threatened to oust Kurdish forces from Kirkuk.

In response, Kurdish forces pulled back from outer defensive lines and entrenched behind a major irrigation channel, with Iraqi forces now only about 100 yards to the west, Abdulla said. Iraq's military command rushed to issue a statement denying media reports that it had commenced operations for the city.

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"Our orders now are not to engage them but if they advance further we will have to act", he said.

The Kurdish-held multi-ethnic region of Kirkuk has emerged as a flashpoint in the crisis as it is claimed by both sides.

Al-Abadi said he had no plans for military operations in Kirkuk and was focused on recapturing the last ISIS stronghold in Iraq, near the western border with Syria. USA coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon told The Associated Press that military movements in the region were in line with recent operations to clear the terrorist group's fighters from Hawija, a town roughly 40 miles west of Kirkuk. Kurdish peshmerga troops who are defending the area are also US -armed and trained. The city and the surrounding area, including the oil fields, are under Kurdish control.

Abadi's government, seeking to keep the country together, has taken measures to isolate the KRG, including a ban on direct worldwide flights to the region.

Neighbors Turkey and Iran, which have large Kurdish minorities, also vehemently opposed the referendum.

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