Iraqi forces have seized key installations on the outskirts of Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk.
According to an Iraqi military statement, the Iraqi forces have captured the K1 military base, the Baba Gurgur oil and gas field, and a state-owned oil company’s office.
Baghdad said the Kurdish Peshmerga withdrew without fighting the Iraqi forces, but clashes were reported south of Kirkuk, according to BBC News.
The Iraqi deployment of troops around Kirkuk was justified under the pretext of protecting the country’s unity. Last month, more than 92% of Kurdistan voted in favor of independence from Iraq, a move that was deemed unconstitutional by the Iraqi government.
Despite the Iraqi forces moving outside Kirkuk, the Kurdistan Region Security Council accused Baghdad of launching an “unprovoked attack” and said the Peshmerga will defend Kirkuk, Kurdistan, its people and interests.
The Peshmerga destroyed five US-made Humvees used by an Iran-backed Shia paramilitary force call the “Population Mobilisation.”
— KR Security Council (@KRSCPress) October 16, 2017
Inside Kirkuk, the population is concerned because of the Peshmerga’s withdrawal from the city. With them fleeing, many armed Kurdish civilians are organizing themselves to defend their territory from Iraqi forces and its Shia paramilitary allies.
“If we have to die, we will die here in our city,” one man said.
Duncan Stone, a BBC cameraman caught images of Shia militias firing at a Kurdish checkpoint with automatic gunfire.
— Duncan Stone (@DuncanCStone) October 16, 2017
The Kurdish-controlled city is being disputed because of its wide amount of oil. Both Iraq and Kurdistan are claiming the city but it was reclaimed by Kurdish fighters from Islamic State back in 2014.
U.S. Reaction to the Kirkuk Offensive by Iraqi Troops
According to ABC News, “the U.S.-led coalition is urging Iraqi and Kurdish forces to “avoid escalatory actions” after federal forces launched an assault south of the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, sparking clashes with the Kurds.”
The United States has troops deployed both with Iraqi and Kurdish troops to advise and assist against the Islamic State. U.S. forces deployed in Iraq are now in a very delicate situation where both sides are drawing battle plans against each other.
Most of the U.S. soldiers deployed in Iraq are from Special Operations Forces, and are embedded with local troops against ISIS.
The United States opposed the Kurdish referendum but kept forces embedded with Kurdish fighters in an effort to use the coalition’s assets against fleeing Islamic State’s fighters.
The New York Times reported that coalition soldiers were out of the fight and were taken out of the area of operation for safety precaution. The NYT also stated that Colonel Dillon, a spokesman for the coalition in Baghdad, said the Americans are closely monitor the situation and called both sides to avoir additional escalatory actions.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and strongly urge all sides to avoid additional escalatory actions,” Colonel Dillon said. “We opposed violence from any party, and urge against destabilizing actions that distract from the fight against ISIS and further undermine Iraq’s stability.”
Last July, the Iraqi forces declared victory in Mossul against Daesh where the Kurdish Peshmerga played a very important role in cutting the withdrawal of fleeing ISIS fighters.