Iraqi troops storm into Kirkuk without a fight

People celebrate after Iraqi forces advanced in Kirkuk during an operation against Kurdish fighters, on October 16, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2017
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Iraqi troops storm into Kirkuk without a fight

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Federal Police and allied Shiite-dominated paramilitary forces recaptured the northern city of Kirkuk with hardly a shot fired on Monday after Kurdish forces split in two and one group refused to fight.
A convoy of troops, tanks and armored vehicles from Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Force seized the provincial government headquarters, key military sites and an oil field on Monday afternoon, less than a day after the military operation began.
Thousands of Kurdish civilians fled the city of 1 million people for fear of reprisals, and a curfew was imposed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. A Kurdish father of four driving north out of Kirkuk toward the Kurdish regional capital Irbil said: “We no longer feel safe. We hope to return to our home but right now we feel it’s dangerous for us to stay.”
Crowds of ethnic Turkmen who opposed Kurdish control of the city were celebrating. Some drove in convoys with Iraqi flags and fired shots in the air.
The US called for calm. President Donald Trump said he regretted the conflict but would not take sides. The US Embassy in Baghdad called on all parties to “immediately cease military action.”
Kirkuk and its lucrative oil fields have been held by Kurdish forces since 2014, when the Iraqi Army fled in the face of an onslaught by Daesh militants.
Their recapture by Baghdad was simplified by internal strife among the Kurds, who have been divided for decades into two main factions; the PDK (Kurdistan Democratic Party) of regional government leader Masoud Barzani and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) of his longtime rival Jalal Talabani, who was Iraq’s president from 2003 to 2014 and died two weeks ago. Both parties control their own Peshmerga fighters.
Kurdish forces controlled by Baffal Talabani, the late president’s son, withdrew from their positions without fighting in an agreement with the federal government on Saturday night.
The PDK accused them of “treason” on Monday for allowing Baghdad’s forces to recapture Kirkuk unopposed. “We regret that some PUK officials helped in this plot,” it said. “They gave up some sensitive areas and withdrew from them without any fighting.”
PUK troops in Jalwlaa, Mandily and Qaratabbah towns in southern Diyala province were also withdrawn on Monday. More areas in Nineveh, Salahuddin, Diyala and Kirkuk provinces are expected to be handed over in the next 24 hours, military sources told Arab News.
“The Peshmerga of PUK were always in the forefront to defend the sons of Kirkuk and protect them from terrorism, but we will not sacrifice a drop of blood to maintain stolen oil fields,” said Alla Talabani, a senior Kurdish leader and head of the PUK federal parliamentary bloc.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said: “We assure our people in Kurdistan and in Kirkuk in particular that we are keen on their safety and best interests. We have only acted to fulfill our constitutional duty to extend the federal authority and impose security and protect the national wealth in this city.”
The recapture of Kirkuk is the latest measure taken by Baghdad since Kurds in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum last month condemned by the federal government as illegal and unconstitutional.
Iraqi federal officials and military officers told Arab News that their forces would not stop until they recapture all the disputed areas that have been controlled by Kurdish forces, some since 2003.
“The goal is all the disputed areas, not just Kirkuk and its surroundings,” said Ihssan Al-Shimari, one of Al-Abadi’s advisers. “We will gain back all these areas and liberate the western areas of Anbar seized by Daesh.”


Libya recovers five bodies, picks up 185 migrants

A total of 900 migrants have been intercepted or rescued by the Libyan navy since Wednesday. (AFP/File)
Updated 23 June 2018
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Libya recovers five bodies, picks up 185 migrants

  • The bodies were recovered from an inflatable boat packed with migrants that got into trouble
  • Two coast guard patrols carried out different operations on Friday, picking up 91 migrants in one group and 94 in the second

Tripoli: Libyan coast guards have recovered the bodies of five migrants and picked up 185 survivors off its western coast, a spokesman said on Saturday.

The migrants, who were rescued about 24 km off the town of Qarabulli, were trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in two boats, the Libyan navy said Saturday. Those who lost their lives were from Sudan, Nigeria, Chad and Egypt.

The bodies were recovered from an inflatable boat packed with migrants that got into trouble, the coast guard spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters.

A day earlier, three children and nine women were among 94 migrants rescued on Friday when their inflatable dinghy sank 12 nautical miles from Garabulli, east of the capital Tripoli.

“The migrants are from different sub-Saharan countries including three children and nine women,” he said.

Two coast guard patrols carried out different operations on Friday, picking up 91 migrants in one group and 94 in the second, Qassem said.

A total of 900 migrants have been intercepted or rescued by the Libyan navy since Wednesday as departures pick up due to favorable weather.

Usually in such cases the migrants are taken to detention centers pending repatriation.

Libya’s western coast is the main departure point for migrants fleeing wars and poverty and trying to reach Europe, although the number of crossings has sharply dropped since last July due to a more active coast guard presence with support from the EU.

Libya descended into chaos following the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with many armed groups and two administrations vying for power.

Most migrants try to head across the Mediterranean toward Italy, hoping they will be picked up by ships run by aid groups and taken there, although many drown before they are rescued.

Earlier this month, Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister, Matteo Salvini, vowed to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving one ship stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will try on Sunday to persuade other EU leaders to agree on a common policy on migrants, although her chances of winning support from all 28 member states are deemed slim.