Iraq: Security forces advance into Kurdish-held territories following referendum
According to news reports, Iraqi forces are advancing into Kurdish-held territories in the Kirkuk province. Kurdish security forces reveal that Baghdad is moving to capture oil fields and an important airbase in the region. Tensions between Kurdish leaders and the Iraqi government have been high after Kurds overwhelmingly backed independence in a recently held controversial referendum. Let's see what's happening on the ground.
On 28 September, the Kurdish community in Northern Iraq signaled its overwhelming desire for an independent Kurdistan, in a referendum. The referendum was held despite vehement opposition from Baghdad and the international community. According to the electoral commission, 92% out of 3.3 million voters backed creating an independent Kurdistan. In reaction to the results, Baghdad threatened Kurdistan with an air and land blockade.
The Kurds, the fourth largest ethnic group in the region, have been on a centuries-long quest for an independent state. They now have an autonomous province in Iraq with separate institutions, including Parliament. They have expanded their territory to surrounding oil-rich areas. In 2014, when ISIS expanded rapidly in Iraq, the Kurds took control of Kirkuk, a region claimed by the Iraqi central government.
Along with Baghdad, most of the international community had opposed the referendum. The US has urged both parties to consider dialogue as a way forward, given the "destabilizing actions that distract from the fight against [ISIS] and further undermine Iraq's stability."
Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki had earlier ruled out military options suggesting that he wanted to avoid "a fight within Iraqis." However, the Iraqi Army is fighting alongside the government-backed Shia militias and have already taken control of certain areas near Kirkuk. According to the government, their aim is to "secure bases and federal installations" while cooperating with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.