Iraqi forces are advancing on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk, with Iraq’s Prime Minister calling on residents in the oil-rich city to cooperate with its security forces.
By early Monday, Iraqi troops claimed to have taken control of several areas including the North Gas Company and the Kirkuk power station, according to a statement from the Iraqi Joint Operations Command.
The Kurdistan Regional Security Council (KRCG) issued its own statement saying Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces advanced from Taza Khormatu in Kirkuk, just over 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of the city.
The council said Peshmerga forces were attacked using “US military equipment, including Abrams tanks and Humvees.” It added the Peshmerga had destroyed a number of those Humvees.
The US-led coalition against ISIS (Operation Inherent Resolve) says it’s closely monitoring the situation and is urging all sides to “avoid escalatory actions.” Earlier, the Pentagon echoed this stance.
Iraqi forces fled Kirkuk in 2014 as ISIS fighters attempted to secure the territory, shortly after taking over the city of Mosul and establishing their so-called Islamic caliphate across the northwest of the country.
The Kurds, however, sent in their fighters and claimed the city. It’s been in their hands ever since, along with other disputed areas they took over when their fighters routed the Islamic State.
Baghdad wants the oil-rich city back, but the Kurds are refusing to return it. Both the Iraqis and the Kurds are US allies in the fight against ISIS.
On Twitter, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called on citizens in Kirkuk to cooperate with Iraqi security forces, who he has directed to enter the city to impose security and provide protection for Kirkuk’s residents.
Days earlier, he sought to downplay talk of impending clashes between Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the city. “Our armed forces cannot and will not attack our citizens, whether Arab or Kurd. The fake news being spread has a deplorable agenda behind it,” he tweeted on Friday.