Kurds warn of humanitarian crisis as Iraq takes control of Kirkuk

By Allen Cone  |  Oct. 21, 2017 at 4:38 PM
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Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The Kurdistan Regional Government said Saturday the region is facing as humanitarian crisis as nearly 170,000 people have been displaced from the Kirkuk region by Iraqi forces.

Iraqis took control of disputed areas in Kirkuk, Diyala and Nineveh provinces this week.

"So 168,372 civilians have been displaced from Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Khurmatu, Zummar, and Rabea to Kurdistan Region," read a statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government Ministry of Interior on Saturday.

Among that total, KRG reported that 84,000 civilians fled to Erbil, 78,372 to Sulaimani and 6,000 to Duhok and Zakho from Rabea and Zummar.

The government expects more will flee because of "indiscriminate violence, torture, looting, burning civilians' homes and properties, especially the Kurdish people in these areas," by the Iraqi and Hashd al-Shaabi forces, the KRG said.

"Majority of the displaced people are hosted by relatives, family friends and host communities, while high number settled in unfinished buildings and public places and camps," the ministry said. "They are living in a very difficult situation and need urgent humanitarian assistance including food, water, milk, diapers, cloths, shoes, blankets, kerosene for heating, shelter as well as medical aids."

Erbil's governor Nawzad Hadi said the Barzani Charity Foundation, the Rwanga Organization and the Red Cross have assisted, and he asked U.N. to also pitch in.

"What is our duty now is to find spaces for these displaced people," Hadi said.

Camps won't be set up because officials hope problems will be resolved soon. The U.S. Department of State has called for the end to fighting.

"We urge Iraqi Kurdish authorities to respect the constitutionally mandated role of the central government and we call upon the central government to reject threats or even allusion to possible use of force," the State Department said in a Sept. 29 release. "The United States asks all parties, including Iraq's neighbors, to reject unilateral actions and the use of force.

"We encourage all sides to engage constructively in a dialogue to improve the future of all Iraqis."

Last week, Baghdad launched a military operation to drive Kurdish forces out of the northern city of Kirkuk, which includes lucrative oilfields, and all disputed areas next to Iraqi Kurdistan. In a referendum last month, 93 percent voted to secede from Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called it an illegal vote and the United States said it "does not recofnize" the referendum.

"The military operation is almost complete. Small villages and towns in the area are still out of our control," Ahmed Assadi, spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Units, told Arab News.

The Iraqi forces don't intend to enter the Kurdish region itself.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council expressed concern about reports of violence near the city of Kirkuk.

"Council members called on all sides to refrain from the threat and use of force, and to engage in constructive dialogue as a pathway to de-escalation and a means to preserve Iraqi unity while upholding the provisions of the Iraqi constitution," said a statement issued by the 15-member body.

Earlier in the month, Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said "protection remains our overriding concern" in wake of the offensive. She reported that more than 5.4 million civilians have been displaced since 2014.

"Millions of Iraqis have been helped to safety and protected by the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government during the conflict," she said in a U.N. release.

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