Iraqi forces seize territory from Kurds in independence dispute

Iraqi forces drive towards Kurdish Peshmerga positions on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk on Sunday. Baghdad has been turning the screws on the Kurdish region since a September independence referendum, pushing Kurd leaders to disavow the vote and accept shared administration over Kirkuk. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2017
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Iraqi forces seize territory from Kurds in independence dispute

KIRKUK, Iraq: Iraqi forces clashed with Kurdish fighters Monday near the disputed city of Kirkuk, seizing a key military base and other territory in a major operation sparked by a controversial independence referendum.
The offensive, which follows weeks of soaring tensions between two US allies in the battle against the Daesh group, aims to retake oil fields and military bases that Kurdish forces seized during the fightback against the jihadists.
Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces exchanged artillery fire early Monday south of Kirkuk, the capital of the oil-rich province, after the launch of the operation overnight.
In a major advance, Iraq's Joint Operations Command said central government forces took control of the K1 military base northwest of the city -- the first objective of the offensive -- following the withdrawal of peshmerga fighters.
They also seized bridges, roads and an industrial zone to the southwest of Kirkuk, as well as gas facilities, a power station, a refinery and a police station, it said.
The clashes follow an armed standoff between Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army prompted by the September 25 non-binding referendum that produced a resounding "yes" for independence for the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
Baghdad has declared the referendum -- held despite international opposition -- illegal.
Crisis talks on Sunday had made little headway in resolving the standoff, which has raised fears of fresh chaos just as Daesh jihadists are on the verge of losing their last strongholds in the country.
State television announced that government troops had taken "large areas" of the province from Kurdish forces "without fighting".
Military sources on both sides however reported exchange of Katyusha rocket fire to the south of the provincial capital.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who said this week that he was "not going... to make war on our Kurdish citizens", has "given orders to armed forces to take over security in Kirkuk," state television said.
Iraqi troops will "secure bases and government facilities in Kirkuk province" the government said.
Multiple peshmerga fighters were injured in the clashes and hospitalised in Kirkuk, a local security source said.
Abadi said that members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation forces, which are dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, would stay away from Kirkuk, where there have been multiple demonstrations against their involvement in the dispute.
An AFP photographer saw columns of Iraqi troops heading towards Kirkuk from the south.
Two people were killed in artillery exchanges at Tuz Khurmatu, 75 kilometres south of Kirkuk, a doctor at a city hospital said.
On Sunday, Iraq's National Security Council said it viewed as a "declaration of war" the presence of "fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk", including fighters from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
For their part the Iraqi forces have said that they have no wish to enter Kirkuk but that they wish to retake military positions and infrastructure which were under their control before their troops withdrew in the face of hostility from the jihadists.
On the fringes of the town, they used loudspeakers to call on the peshmerga to give up their positions, local sources said.
Long claimed by the Kurds as part of their historic territory, the province has emerged as the main flashpoint in the dispute.
Polling during the referendum was held not only in the three provinces of the autonomous Kurdish region but also in adjacent Kurdish-held areas, including Kirkuk, that are claimed by both Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Kurds control the city of Kirkuk and three major oil fields in the province that produce some 250,000 barrels per day, accounting for 40 percent of Iraqi Kurdistan's oil exports.
The fields would provide crucial revenue to Baghdad, which has been left cash-strapped from the global fall in oil prices and three years of battle against Daesh. Iraq is also demanding the return of a military base and a nearby airport, according to the Kurds.


Kenyan who gave earnings to poor wins $1M teacher prize

Updated 28 min 50 sec ago
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Kenyan who gave earnings to poor wins $1M teacher prize

  • The winner is selected by committees comprised of teachers, journalists, officials, entrepreneurs, business leaders and scientists
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A Kenyan teacher from a remote village who gave away most of his earnings to the poor won a $1 million prize on Sunday for his work teaching in a government-run school that has just one computer and shoddy Internet access.
The annual Global Teacher Prize was awarded to Peter Tabichi in the opulent Atlantis Hotel in Dubai in a ceremony hosted by actor Hugh Jackman.
Tabichi said the farthest he’d traveled before this was to Uganda. Coming to Dubai marked his first time on an airplane.
“I feel great. I can’t believe it. I feel so happy to be among the best teachers in the world, being the best in the world,” he told The Associated Press after his win.
Tabichi teaches science to high schoolers in the semi-arid village of Pwani where almost a third of children are orphans or have only one parent. Drought and famine are common.
He said the school has no library and no laboratory. He plans to use the million dollars from his win to improve the school and feed the poor.
Despite the obstacles Tabichi’s students face, he’s credited with helping many stay in school, qualify for international competitions in science and engineering and go on to college.
“At times, whenever I reflect on the challenges they face, I shed tears,” he said of his students, adding that his win will help give them confidence.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement that Tabichi’s story “is the story of Africa” and of hope for future generations.
As a member of the Roman Catholic brotherhood, Tabichi wore a plain floor-length brown robe to receive the award presented by Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The prize is awarded by the Varkey Foundation, whose founder, Sunny Varkey, established the for-profit GEMS Education company that runs 55 schools in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar.
In his acceptance speech, Tabichi said his mother died when he was just 11 years old, leaving his father, a primary school teacher, with the job of raising him and his siblings alone.
Tabichi thanked his father for instilling Christian values in him, then pointed to his father in the audience, invited him up on stage and handed him the award to hold as the room erupted in applause and cheers.
“I found tonight to be incredibly emotional, very moving,” Jackman told the AP after hosting the ceremony and performing musical numbers from his film The Greatest Showman.
“It was a great honor, a thrill to be here and I just thought the whole evening was just filled with a really pure spirit,” he added.
Now in its fifth year, the prize is the largest of its kind. It’s quickly become one of the most coveted and prestigious for teachers. Tabichi selected out of out 10,000 applicants.
The winner is selected by committees comprised of teachers, journalists, officials, entrepreneurs, business leaders and scientists.
Last year, a British art teacher was awarded for her work in one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country. Her work was credited with helping students feel welcome and safe in a borough with high murder rates.
Other winners include a Canadian teacher for her work with indigenous students in an isolated Arctic village where suicide rates are high, and a Palestinian teacher for her work in helping West Bank refugee children traumatized by violence.
The 2015 inaugural winner was a teacher from Maine who founded a nonprofit demonstration school created for the purpose of developing and disseminating teaching methods.