For three days, the Iraqi government has been asking the Peshmerga forces of autonomous Kurdistan to withdraw from the city of Kirkuk and to cancel the referendum on self-determination on 25 September. Fighting has finally broken out between the troops of Baghdad and the Kurds on the night of Monday 16 October. Iraqi forces inspect roads and infrastructure.
Iraqi federal troops began their advance in the middle of the night and on Monday morning, the Joint Operations Command said they had resumed roads and infrastructure to the Kurdish peshmergas.
Forces loyal to Baghdad have seized one of the six oil fields in the Kirkuk region, which is particularly rich in hydrocarbons. The army also said it had taken control of the city’s military airport.
Oil fields in the Kirkuk region of northern Iraq were taken by independent Kurdistan fighters three years ago in 2014 in the chaos created by the breakthrough of the Islamic State group in Iraqi territory.
Today, the jihadist organization disappeared from the map in Iraq. But the referendum of independence of the country’s Kurds, last month, abruptly revived the disagreements between this minority and the central power of Baghdad.
What is at stake at present is the so-called disputed territories, which Kurds claim but which are not within the boundaries of autonomous Kurdistan defined in the Iraqi Constitution.
The disputed territories
These contested zones represent a strip of land more than 1,000 km long, from the Syrian border to the one with Iran. It covers 37,000 square kilometers.
Located south of the three provinces of Erbil, Dohuk, and Suleimaniyeh, which form the autonomous region of Kurdistan, this band covers portions of the provinces of Nineveh, Salaheddin, and Diyala.
All the rich province of Kirkuk, at the center of these latest developments, is considered “disputed”.
A progression of the Iraqi forces carried out without great fighting?
According to Iraqi official television, ” counter-terrorism units, the 9th Armored Division of the Army and the Federal Police ” are conducting the operations. They reportedly resumed ” important areas of Kirkuk province without fighting “.
Facts denied by the regional government of Kurdistan. Military sources on both sides reported violent rocket attacks south of Kirkuk, causing several wounded in the ranks of the peshmerga.
The government of Baghdad indicates that its armed forces have the mission of ” securing the bases and the federal facilities of the province of Kirkuk “. On the spot, the Kurdish governor, dismissed but refused to leave his post, called on the local inhabitants to take up arms to defend their city.
It would seem, however, that the progression of the Iraqi forces takes place mainly without combat, without real resistance of the Kurdish Peshmerga units. The situation is confusing and evolving on the ground.
Strengthening of the armed forces between the Iraqi government and the Kurds
The question is how far the Iraqi army is ready to move forward and what the attitude of the Kurdish forces will be in the face of this progression. Thousands of Kurdish residents of Kirkuk have begun to flee the city, Agence France-Presse said.
On Sunday, 15 October, the Kurdish leaders expressed their readiness to dialogue with the central authorities, but refused to cancel the independence referendum as a prerequisite for any negotiations with Baghdad.
Shortly afterwards, Baghdad changed its tone, denouncing the presence in Kirkuk of Kurdish fighters from another country, Turkey. The government sees it as ” a declaration of war “.
While a few weeks ago, Iraqi and Kurdish forces were fighting the same enemy, the Islamic State group, now the Iraqi National Army clearly passes offensive on this front.