Iraqi forces retake Kirkuk military airport from Kurds: army

Iraqi forces retake Kirkuk military airport from Kurds: army
3 min read
16 October, 2017
Iraqi forces take control of a military airport from Kurdish fighters near the disputed city of Kirkuk after forces capture an oil field and the main military base there.
Iraqi forces took control of a military airport from Kurdish fighters near Kirkuk [Anadolu]
Iraqi forces on Monday took control of a military airport from Kurdish fighters near the disputed city of Kirkuk, following tensions over a controversial independence referendum, the military said.

It came as Iraqi forces also captured an oil field and the main military base in the region after launching a major operation during the night, according to Iraq's Joint Operations Command.

A statement from Iraq's military command ordered Kirkuk's local police and security forces to report to their posts in the city and maintain order. The military said it wants to protect the city with "the people of Kirkuk".

Sporadic rocket and mortar fire as well as accounts of civilians fleeing towards Erbil have since been reported, The New Arab's correspondent said.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi assigned the city's Arab deputy governor Rakan Saeed to temporarily maintain control over Kirkuk, a source told The New Arab.

The move came after the city's Kurdish governor Najmaldin Karim urged the public to come out to the streets and fight.

"We saw some of the young people who expressed their readiness to help their Peshmerga brothers to defend the land," he told Rudaw, a Kurdish media network.

Kurdish forces known as Peshmerga took control of Kirkuk in the summer of 2014, when the Islamic State group swept across northern Iraq and the country's armed forces crumbled.

Iraq has since demanded that the city, which is outside the Kurds' autonomous region, be handed back to federal control.

Tensions have escalated since the Kurds voted for independence in a non-binding referendum last month.

'Declaration of war'

On Sunday, Iraq's National Security Council said it viewed as a "declaration of war" the presence of "fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk", including fighters from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

For their part the Iraqi forces have said that they have no wish to enter Kirkuk but that they wish to retake military positions and infrastructure which were under their control before their troops withdrew in the face of hostility from the jihadists.

On the fringes of the town, they used loudspeakers to call on the Peshmerga to give up their positions, local sources said.

Long claimed by the Kurds as part of their historic territory, the province has emerged as the main flashpoint in the dispute.

Polling during the referendum was held not only in the three provinces of the autonomous Kurdish region but also in adjacent Kurdish-held areas, including Kirkuk, that are claimed by both Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kurds control the city of Kirkuk and three major oil fields in the province that produce some 250,000 barrels per day, accounting for 40 percent of Iraqi Kurdistan's oil exports.

The fields would provide crucial revenue to Baghdad, which has been left cash-strapped from the global fall in oil prices and three years of battle against IS.

Agencies contributed to this report.

The Iraq Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.

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