The Iraqi government asserted control over the disputed city of Kirkuk, sending troops to seize key locations in and around the city including the seat of the provincial government, in the first decisive move by Baghdad after the Kurdish independence referendum.
After weeks of threats, the Iraqi army entered into Kirkuk on Monday, the country’s most ethnic and religiously diverse city, and raised its flag over the provincial government headquarters. It was not immediately clear to what extent Iraqi government troops controlled Kirkuk and there were conflicting reports from both sides.
Iraq views holding the independence referendum in Kirkuk as a land-grab and claims that Kurds exploited the fight against Islamic State to suddenly take over the city in 2014.
The Iraqi army faced little, if any, resistance during its capture of Kirkuk and ethnic Turkmen population of the city celebrated the arrival of the government troops.
Following the independence referendum last week, the Iraqi parliament adopted a resolution, authorizing the prime minister to use force to take over Kirkuk.
Late on Sunday, the Iraqi army took oil fields in western Kirkuk while Kurdish peshmerga forces dig up positions in the north-western part of the province to protect oil fields. A significant part of Kurdistan’s oil exports depends on oil fields in Kirkuk.
The fighting over Kirkuk between Peshmerga and the Iraqi army, both of which were being trained by the U.S., threatened to deepen country’s 14-year-old civil war on another level. The crisis also risks drawing in regional powers like Iran and Turkey.
Baghdad’s decision to send troops came just three days after Mr. Trump promised to check Iran’s expansionist policies in the region. Some observers speculated that the capture of Kirkuk was a victory for Iran.