An Iraqi general denied on Friday that government troops had been sent to take control over Kirkuk after reports that the army was advancing on the city, which is largely under control of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government and its Peshmerga fighters.
Captain Mustafa al-Hadad of the Popular Mobilization Units told the news website Al Sura in Baghdad that Iraqi forces were working to clear Islamic State from nearby Hawija.
“Our operations are clearing North Hawija from ISIS. Anyone disseminating news that this is against Peshmerga is incorrect,” Al Sura reported al-Hadad as saying.
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command separately denied launching an operation south of Kirkuk.
— SURA (@AlSuraEnglish) October 13, 2017
Earlier, AFP news agency reported, citing an unidentified Iraqi Kurdish general, that the Iraqi army had launched an operation to retake Kirkuk province.
Iraqi Kurdistan officials had been warning for days that the central army was preparing an operation to retake the northern city. Baghdad had ordered that it be turned over to Iraqi army control after the KRG held an independence referendum in the city last month. Kirkuk is not officially part of the Kurdistan Region.
#BREAKING Iraq army launches operation to retake Kirkuk province – general says
— AFP news agency (@AFP) October 13, 2017
Rudaw reported that Peshmerga had withdrawn from some positions to defend against the advancing army. Some 6,000 Peshmerga have been deployed to the city since Thursday night, according to KRG Vice President Kosrat Rasul.
The Kurdistan Region Security Council said early Friday that it was “alarmed by significant Iraqi military and Popular Mobilization Forces buildup in Bashir and Taz” in southern Kirkuk. According to the KRSC, the forces, tanks and humvees were positioned approximately 3 kilometers from Peshmerga front line positions.
Hemin Hawrawi, a senior assistant to KRG President Masoud Barzani, told The Defense Post: “It is vital for international community to know that Iraq is under PMF control now.”
“All U.S. weapons which were given to Iraq are used by most of pmf and sectarian units of Iraqi Army for domestic politics. They are mobilizing all U.S. weapons to use them against Peshmerga forces who lost 1,800 Peshmerga in the fight against ISIS.”
On Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, “we will not use our army forces against our people or fight a war against our Kurdish citizens.”
Iraqi forces moved to begin operations near Qaim and Rawa on Thursday after capturing Hawija from ISIS earlier this month.