Iraq-Kurdistan Dispute

Kurdish forces have withdrawn from the town of Sinjar, a day after being driven out of the city of Kirkuk by Iraqi federal forces. The U.S. military confirms armed conflict between the two forces with as many as 11 causalities.

President Donald J. Trump told reporters at the White House that Washington is “not taking sides” in the escalating Iraqi-Kurdish dispute.

On Monday, the Iraqi army said it had seized full control of Kirkuk. Thousands of people fled the city.

Earlier the U.S. – which has supplied and trained both Iraqi federal forces and the Kurdish peshmerga forces –  had urged both sides to “avoid additional escalatory actions” which could detract from the battle against the Islamic State (IS), according to Reuters.

Iraqi Kurds live in semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq where they have their own government, foreign policies and militias.

The Yazidi minority, who are loyal to the Iraq government in Baghdad, have moved back into the Sinjar after fleeing persecution from IS in 2016.

Tensions between Kurds and Baghdad have escalated since Iraqi Kurds voted for independence on September 25 in a referendum that was opposed by Iraq’s central government, the U.S. and other countries including Turkey and Iran.

Since the referendum, Baghdad has retaliated by halting international flights and currency transfers in the region. Turkey threatened to cut off its oil pipeline, where hundreds of thousands of barrels come through a day. The U.S. has stopped paying the salaries of the peshmerga fighters.

Latest Developments

  • Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag welcomed the Iraqi government and state-sponsored militias military operation but said they came “too late”. Earlier, Bozdag announced Turkey would be closing its airspace to all flights coming to and from Iraqi Kurdish region.
  • Thousands of people, including civilians and peshmerga fighters, have fled Kirkuk the city as Iraqi forces advanced.
  • Iraqi forces said they’ve taken key sites in Kirkuk including an airport, a power plant and an industrial district on the edge of the city. The forces also removed a Kurdish flag hoisted on top of a governorate building that was put next to an Iraqi flag.
  • The Kurdistan Region Security Council said in an October 16 statement that its Peshmerga forces had destroyed “at least five humvees” used by state-sanctioned militias following an “unprovoked attack.” The humvees, along with Abram tanks, are U.S.-supplied equipments.
  • Iraqi prime minister Abadi said in a statement that he is fulfilling his “constitutional duty” to defend the unity of Iraq. Abadi asked the Kurdish peshmerga to “carry on its duties under the federal leadership.”
  • Iraqi forces have captured North Oil Co. and a nearby refinery from Kurdish forces. Oil and natural gas production are proceeding normally, according to Reuters.
  • Oil prices have risen due to Iraq-Kurdistan conflict. Iraq is one of the biggest oil producers in the world and the Kurdish-controlled region of Kirkuk produces a significant amount of its oil.

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