Iraqi army takes over Kirkuk as Kurdish Peshmerga flee

By Ed Adamczyk  |  Oct. 16, 2017 at 8:25 AM
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Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Kurdish Peshmerga troops left the city of Kirkuk on Monday after Iraqi troops captured vital installations in and around the city, Baghdad's army said -- the latest moves in a standoff that arose from a vote for Kurdish independence last month.

Officials said the K-1 military base is now under Iraqi army control, as are oil fields in resource-rich Kurdistan province.

The Kurdish military peacefully withdrew from the Maktab Khaled and Tal a-Ward regions, south of Kirkuk, with the Iraqi Federal Police now controlling the area.

Clashes broke out, though, between the Kurdish Peshmerga and troops of the al-Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces -- one of Iraq's pro-government independent militias -- south of the city, Iraqi News reported on Monday. It said at least 30 Peshmerga troops were hospitalized.

The Iraqi army turned its attention to the Peshmerga after Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region of Iraq, voted overwhelmingly for independence last month -- a referendum opposed by Baghdad.

Iraq has imposed a ban on international flights to and from Erbil, Kurdistan's capital, after a demand that two Kurdistan airports be handed over to the Iraqi government.

The two sides previously worked together in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq.

Prior to the Iraqi advances, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave orders to protect all citizens of Kirkuk. Armed Kurdish citizens were seen in the streets of Kirkuk on Monday, but no security forces.

Witnesses said defiance of the Iraqi government could be heard from citizens as shops closed and roads emptied.

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