Kurdish authorities deployed 6,000 additional Peshmerga troops to Kirkuk on Friday, in response to perceived military buildup by Iraqi forces and Shi’ite militiamen. Tens of thousands of Peshmerga are already stationed in Kirkuk, which was captured by Kurdish forces in 2014, shortly after the Islamic State militants chased out Iraqi security forces. There are also eyewitness reports of civilians taking up arms to defend the city.
Peshmerga forces, however, did withdraw from the Shi’ite Turkmen towns of Bashir and Taza, near Kirkuk. About 28 square miles were lost. According to Kurdish Brig. Gen. Rasool Kadir, the withdrawal occurred in coordination with the Iraqi military, which immediately took control of the towns and a military base. The Peshmerga units that withdrew today are said to be loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (P.U.K.) political party, which is a rival to President Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party. The Turkmen are a minority group who tend towards loyalty to Baghdad.
This development comes a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi promised to have no intentions of invading Kirkuk. Abadi did ostensibly order a halt to further incursions.
However, Shi’ite militiamen are reportedly massing in the area with the goal of provoking an attack. U.S. Rep. Trent Franks asked Prime Minister Abadi to reign in the militiamen, but it is unlikely that Baghdad has any control over those forces. There are reports that the militiamen fired at Peshmerga near Tuz Khormato, but there were no casualties.
Iraqi President Fuad Masum, who is Kurdish and a member of the P.U.K., reportedly returned to Kurdistan with a list of demands from the federal government: The hand over of Kirkuk airport, K-1 military base, all oil fields, all ISIS prisoners. Also, the return of the Iraqi army to their former stations, and the removal of Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim.
Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani urged the international community “to rapidly intervene to prevent a new war.” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the United States is working on easing tensions.
At least 14 people were killed and three were wounded:
In Baghdad, a bomb wounded three civilians.
Six militants were killed during a failed attack on Tal Safuk.
Militia forces killed five militants in Saniya.
Three militants were killed in Shirqat.