Iraq says Kurds have brought in PKK fighters in 'declaration of war'

Iraq says Kurds have brought in PKK fighters in 'declaration of war'

Iraq says Kurds have brought in PKK fighters in 'declaration of war'

Iraqi government forces captured the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk on Monday, responding to a Kurdish vote on independence with a bold lightning strike that transforms the balance of power in the country.

The century-old movement for Kurdish independence has suffered a calamitous defeat as Iraqi military forces retake the Kirkuk oil province, facing little resistance so far from the Peshmerga fighters.

Monday's Peshmerga statement accused a group within the PUK of "treason" for assisting Baghdad's advance.

The government in Baghdad said the Peshmerga had withdrawn "without fighting".

The Kurdish leadership rejected yesterday the Iraqi government demand that it cancel the outcome of a Sept 25 independence referendum as a pre-condition for talks to resolve the dispute. Thousands of Kurdish civilians fled the city of 1 million people for fear of reprisals.

"They chose their personal interests over Iraq's interests", he added.

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Oil and natural gas production from the Kirkuk region is proceeding normally despite the ongoing Iraqi military operation to seize the region form Kurdish forces, another Iraqi Oil Ministry official told Reuters in Baghdad.

Abadi's spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said that Iraqi government forces "do not want to. harm citizens, be they Kurdish or otherwise, but they must enforce the constitution", which gives Baghdad control in the disputed areas and over exports.

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 Kurdish regional government did not initially confirm the Iraqi advances, but Rudaw, a major Kurdish TV station, reported that Peshmerga had left positions south of Kirkuk.

The latest dispute between Baghdad and the KRG over the Kirkuk area flared after their combined forces routed Islamic State militants from most of northern Iraq earlier this year. Further complicating the matter is that US special forces and advisers serve with both the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga, setting up a situation whereby American troops could find themselves embedded on opposing sides of the battlefield. "IS remains the true enemy of Iraq, and we urge all parties to remain focused on finishing the liberation of their country from this menace".

The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Abadi, directed the Armed Forces to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with residents of Kirkuk and the Peshmerga forces. The U.S. has armed, trained and provided vital air support to both sides in their shared struggle and called the frictions a distraction against the most important fight.

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The US has been closely allied to the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, but strongly opposed the independence referendum which it saw as provocative and divisive. The Iraqi military said it seized two major oil fields outside the city.

Kurdish forces have been in control of six fields in the Kirkuk region providing some 340,000 of the 550,000 barrels per day exported by the regional administration.

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.

The withdrawal of part of the Kurdish forces is ultimately a reflection of deep divisions between the Kurdish leaders and their parties, whose rivalry has always been intense.

"This day should become a holiday, we're so happy to have gotten rid of Barzani's party", said a man celebrating on a motorbike, waving the blue-and-white flag of Iraq's Turkmen, referring to the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani.

Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces early yesterday exchanged artillery fire south of the capital of the province, after the launch of the operation on Sunday night. "We regret that some PUK officials helped in this plot", it said.

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"We salute and appreciate the courageous position of the peshmerga fighters who refused to fight their brothers in the Iraqi forces", Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq Shiite militia, backed by Iran, said on Twitter.

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