– Tyler Durden
In a major escalation involving the disputed Iraqi Kurdish region, which last month declared independence following a referendum which was not recognized by any of its neighbors or Baghdad (in fact, only Israel has supported the legitimacy of the Kurdish referendum to date) Iraqi state media reported that on Monday morning Iraqi federal troops entered territories occupied by the nation’s Kurds, with the FT confirming that Iraqi forces moved to enter the city of Kirkuk. The Iraqi advance comes three years after Kurdish militias seized the areas outside their autonomous region as a pretext to defend against an advance by the Islamic State extremist group.
Al-Iraqiya TV said the military, anti-terrorist units and federal police have taken control of “vast areas” around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk which has long been one of the country’s deepest faultlines, claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad. Iraqi TV also quoted Prime Minister Abadi who said that he “gave the order to capture Kirkuk”
While the TV report said the Iraqis advanced without firing a shot and “without opposition from Kurdish Peshmerga”, unconfirmed social media reports suggest that at least one peshmerga has been killed in the fighting: …
Additionally, the FT writes that Najmaddin Kareem, Kirkuk’s governor, was shown on pro-Kurdish channel Rudaw urging the people of the city to take up arms in its defence. Assuring that further bloodshed appears inevitable, Hemin Hawrami, a senior adviser to Masoud Barzani, KRG president, told the Financial Times that the peshmerga forces would defend the city.
“We have orders, if they come close, all Peshmerga forces will respond very strongly,” Hawrami said. He added that the KRG president had held talks on Sunday with Muhammad Fuad Masum, the Iraqi president, that aimed to resolve the stand-off, saying that it sought “peace and dialogue”. “It seems that Iraqi government and PMF (Popular Mobilisation Forces) made their decision to launch the offensive without even waiting for President Masum to go back to Baghdad tomorrow to take our proposals for talks,” Mr Hawrami said.
“Iraqi forces and Popular Mobilisation are now advancing from Taza, south of Kirkuk, in a major operation; their intention is to enter the city and take over [the] K1 base and oilfields,” said the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Security Council.
As Reuters adds, citing Lieutenant Colonel Salah el-Kinani of the Iraqi army’s ninth armoured division, the aim was to take the K1 air base, west of Kirkuk. Iraqi forces had gathered to the south of Kirkuk in recent days threatening to reclaim a city they had fled in 2014 after Isis militants captured nearby Mosul. The KRG’s peshmerga fighters have held the city for the past three years but its inclusion in last month’s independence referendum, where Kurds voted overwhelmingly to leave Iraq, has enraged Baghdad, and drawn strong opposition from Iran and Turkey.
The AP adds that, for now at least, a commander of the local Kurdish police force said Kurds remain in control of Kirkuk province’s oil wells, with Kurdistan24 reporting that Kirkuk oil is still flowing to Ceyhan via the eponymous pipeline. That may change very soon if Iraq has indeed sent troops to reclaim the local oil infrastructure. …
The autonomous Kurdish region exports about 550,000 barrels a day of crude oil, including from fields operated by the federal North Oil Company.
Following news of armed clashes in the oil rich region, oil prices jumped more than 1 per cent in early Asian trading, with Brent crude oil hitting $57.76 a barrel ….