With the Kurdish independence referendum only four days away, a long-promised offensive against Islamic State militants in Kirkuk province appears to have begun. It is unclear if the timing of the launch now was meant to interfere with voting. Although Kirkuk is not officially part of Iraqi Kurdistan, parts of the province are under Kurdish control, and its Kurdish population seems anxious to participate.
Shi’ite militias are threatening to oust Peshmerga troops from Kirkuk unless the Kurds cancel the referendum. Although this may seem like Baghdad’s doing, Iran, which supports the militias, is also against a Kurdish state as it could invigorate the rebel movement there.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the country would impose sanctions against Iraqi Kurdistan if the referendum goes as planned but would not elaborate on what those sanctions could be. Meanwhile, Russia, which has kept its position on the referendum quiet, did announce new investments in the Kurdish natural gas industry.
Although the United States officially “strongly opposes” the referendum, the former campaign adviser to President Trump, Paul Manafort is now working for Kurdish President Massoud Barzani on the referendum.
At least 121 people were killed or found dead, and four more were wounded:
Forty bodies were found in a mass grave in Tal Qasr. The victims belonged to security forces.
Up to nine civilians were killed when Turkish jets targeting Kurdistan Workers Party (P.K.K.) guerrillas bombed a mountainous area near Sheladze.
A bomb in Abu Ghraib killed one person and wounded four more.
In Baghdad, a sticky bomb killed a liquor dealer.
A farmer was killed when a bomb exploded in Daquq.
Security forces along the Syrian border killed 17 militants near Aziz Agha.
Sixteen militants were killed during an airstrike on Anah.
In Wadi Thalab, an airstrike killed two militants.