Baghdad moves to take control of Kirkuk oil fields

Baghdad moves to take control of Kirkuk oil fields
Iraqis queue outside a petrol station in Kirkuk. Iraqi federal forces plan to restore the central government’s control of the city’s oil fields (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2017

Baghdad moves to take control of Kirkuk oil fields

Baghdad moves to take control of Kirkuk oil fields

BAGHDAD: Iraqi federal forces deployed near Kirkuk plan to restore the central government’s control of the northern city’s oil fields, federal officials and military sources told Arab News on Friday.
They have no intention of fighting Kurdish Peshmerga forces if they withdraw without resistance, the sources said. The military build-up on both sides in the ethnically mixed city and adjacent areas is at a peak since the federal government announced its intention to regain control of the region’s oil fields after Kurdistan held a controversial referendum on independence last month.
Kurdish authorities have sent thousands of additional troops to Kirkuk in order to “confront the threats” from Baghdad, as several units of the Iraqi Urgent Response Forces moved Friday morning toward the main road linking Kirkuk to Tikrit.
Units from the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Squad moved toward the town of Tazza, 10 km south of Kirkuk.
The 9th Armored Division of the Iraqi Army has entered Tazza and remains there “in preparation for any further orders,” military sources told Arab News.
Hadi Al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organization, one of the Shiite groups fighting Daesh, said in a statement on Friday: “Peshmerga troops must withdraw from the areas which were under the control of Iraqi security forces until June 9, 2014.”
At that time, as Daesh overran the provinces of Mosul and Salahuddin and drove Iraqi federal troops out, Kurdish forces took advantage of the resulting chaos and seized Kirkuk and its oil fields.
“We call on all components of the Kurdish people… to prepare fully to respond to those who want war and battle, and to support the Peshmerga forces by all means in order to save the cities of Kurdistan,” Nejervan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), said in a statement circulated on Friday. “We want to avoid our cities becoming like Mosul, Anbar and other Iraqi cities which have been afflicted by mass murder, devastation, and destruction.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has said he has no intention of fighting the Kurds, but “federal authority has to be imposed in Kirkuk and the disputed areas.”
A leader of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) told Arab News on condition of anonymity: “Orders were issued (Friday morning) to reposition and gain control of the nearby oil fields. We moved on the southern and southwestern areas of Kirkuk as we knew there would be no great resistance.”
The PMU leader said most troops taking part in the latest movements toward Kirkuk are from the regular Iraqi security forces, which are backed by the PMUs, specifically units dominated by Turkmen.
The Peshmerga has withdrawn from its positions in the town of Basheer and Tazza. Turkmen Commander Sheikh Wassfi Al-Assi told Arab News: “Our forces have advanced and taken the Peshmerga’s positions, and are now 10 km from Kirkuk. Peshmerga troops haven’t shown resistance, and not a single shot was fired by either side.”
PMU leader Kareem Al-Nuri told Arab News that his forces had received orders to redeploy to positions held by the national army in June 2014.
Kurdish and federal sources said Iraqi forces slowed their advance in response to a request by Hero Khan, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Khan’s team contacted Al-Abadi and asked for 48 hours “to arrange the situation in Kirkuk and avoid fighting,” a senior Shiite politician close to the prime minister told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
Khan’s team “promised to change the governor of Kirkuk, who is loyal to (KRG President Masoud) Barzani,” the Shiite politician said.
The PUK and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK) are the most prominent Kurdish political parties, and have been sharing power in Kurdistan and Baghdad on behalf of Iraqi Kurds.
Kirkuk and most of its suburbs are loyal to the PUK, and used to be run by its staff until the province’s Gov. Kareem Najm Al-Deen shifted his loyalty to the DPK.
“Fighting is likely to take place between the Peshmerga and our troops,” the Shiite politician said.
“Baghdad insists on regaining control of the oil fields, and this is non-negotiable. The PUK doesn’t control all the Kurdish troops deployed in Kirkuk, and those who withdrew this morning (Friday) belonged to the PUK, not the DPK.”