I’ve been covering the potential for an Iraqi Civil War between Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Kurds for Kirkuk and its surrounding areas since before the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum in September. Tonight we’re getting conflicting reports out of Kirkuk about what is actually going on.
From the Government of Iraq:
The PM orders ISF to cooperate with Peshmerga and avoid confrontations, and to protect all civilians in the province
— Government of Iraq (@IraqiGovt) October 15, 2017
There have been reports of US led coalition aircraft over Kirkuk:
— Sardar Sattar (@SardarSattar) October 16, 2017
And that attacks have begun despite PM Ibadi’s orders:
Attack on south Kirkuk includes Iraq's counterterrorism forces, armed and trained by US, against US armed & trained Peshmerga.
— Loveday Morris (@LovedayM) October 15, 2017
— Barzan Sadiq (@BarzanSadiq) October 16, 2017
Iraqi forces launch major Kirkuk operation https://t.co/A2dfOXA5Rr
— Hayder al-Khoei (@Hayder_alKhoei) October 16, 2017
From al Jazeera (emphasis mine):
Iraqi security forces have launched a “major operation” in the Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk to take control of a strategic military base and oil fields, according to Kurdish and Iraqi officials.
The aim of the advance early on Monday was taking control of the Kurdish-controlled K1 airbase, west of Kirkuk, Lieutenant Colonel Salah el-Kinani, of the Iraqi army’s 9th armoured division, told Reuters news agency.
Hemin Hawrami, senior assistant to Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) PresidentMasoud Barzani, also said on Twitter that Peshmerga forces had been ordered “not to initiate any war, but if any advancing militia starts shooting”, then they had the “green light to use every power” to respond.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Erbil, said Kurdish forces in and around Kirkuk “have vowed to defend it to the last man”. He added that the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk has reportedly called residents to arms, “saying anybody with a weapon should take it up and defend the city”.
“It seems as if all diplomatic efforts have failed,” said Stratford, calling the push a “very worrying” development.
At this point it is unclear what exactly is going on. While the reports of actual fighting are scattered and only partially confirmed, there are two armed forces moving into close proximity of each other. And those two forces have very different objectives. Cooler heads may yet prevail, but it won’t take much for this to get really ugly really quickly.
Here’s a live stream from Kirkuk: