Displaced people ride in the back of a vehicle north of Kirkuk, Iraq October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed

100,000 Kurds Flee Kirkuk

Iraqi armed forces have seized the city of Kirkuk, and reportedly 100,000 Kurds are now fleeing the region out of fear of persecution. This all follows an independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan in September, which overwhelmingly favored secession from Iraq.

On Friday, Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters clashed as Iraqi units moved north of Kirkuk to the town of Altun Kupri.

According to reports from Kurdish sources in the region, Iraqi forces have looted and destroyed homes belonging to Kurds in the city. The United Nations has expressed concerns about these reports, but the Iraqi government has denied the allegations.

“The United Nations urges the Government of Iraq to take every action to halt any violations and ensure that all civilians are protected and that the perpetrators of acts of violence, intimidation and forced displacement of civilians be brought to justice,” the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq said in a statement.

While protesting the Iraqi army’s takeover of the town of Khanaqin, six Kurds were injured and a man was killed by Iraqi security forces, according to local mayor, Mohammed Mulla Hassan.

Kurdish troops had withdrawn from Khanaqin on Tuesday to avoid clashing with the Iraqi forces.

Iraqi forces advancing toward Kirkuk on Oct. 16. (Photo by AFP)

Kirkuk is a multi-ethnic city of over one million people in the Kurdish region of Iraq, and it is also the central city of a significant oil producing area. Sunni Muslim Kurds are the largest group in Kirkuk followed by Sunni and Shi‘ite Turkmen, Sunni Arabs and Christian Assyrians.  The seizure of the Kirkuk oil fields has halved the oil output controlled by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Nawzad Hadi, governor of Erbil, told reporters that 18,000 families had taken refuge in Erbil and Sulaimaniya.

KRG President Masoud Barzani tweeted, “I call upon you to convey the oppressed voice and peaceful message of the Kurdistan Region to the world.”

Kurdish officials have been blaming Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU), a Shi‘ite Muslim paramilitary militia, as the primary source of sectarian violence.

Popular Mobilization forces marching in Bagdad. (Photo by Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters)

The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that security in Kirkuk was in the hands of local police as well as the elite Counter Terrorism Service. The United States has a history of training and equipping these Iraqi forces, despite also being an ally of the Kurds today. The Iraqi prime minister added that “all other armed groups should not be allowed to stay.”

Iraq’s Supreme Justice Council has ordered the arrest of KRG Vice President Kosrat Rasul for an alleged statement that Iraqi troops were “occupying forces.”

U.N. officials have received allegations that 150 houses were burned down and 11 detonated in Tuz Khurmato (55 miles south of Kirkuk), and that Turkmen political party offices in Kirkuk were assaulted.

Iran and Turkey back the Iraqi government’s condemnation of the Kurds’ referendum in the KRG, concerned that it would embolden separatism in their own Kurdish populations. The Kurds’ ally, the United States, opposed the vote.

[Title Photo: Displaced people riding in a vehicle north of Kirkuk on October 19, 2017. (Reuters/Ako Rasheed)]


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