Battle of Kirkuk (2017)

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Battle of Kirkuk (2017)
Part of the 2017 Iraqi–Kurdish conflict
Kirkuk offensive.svg
Map of the offensive
Date15–20 October 2017
(5 days)
LocationKirkuk Governorate, Iraq
Result Major Iraqi victory[4][5]
Territorial
changes
The Iraqi Government takes control of the entire Kirkuk Governorate, including the city of Kirkuk, Kirkuk Air Base, and Kirkuk Airport by 20 October[6][7][8]
Belligerents
 Iraq  Iraqi Kurdistan
Kurdistan Workers' Party[1][2](disputed)[3]
Commanders and leaders

Iraq Haider al-Abadi
(Commander in chief)

Iraq Maj. Gen. Fadhil al-Barwari
(ISOF commander)
Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani
Units involved

Iraq Iraqi Army

Iraqi Turkmen Front[10]
Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga
People's Defence Forces[1]
Strength

2000 soldiers

200–300 armoured vehicles[11]
9,000 Peshmerga forces[9]
Casualties and losses
12 killed, 7 vehicles destroyed (Kurdish claim)[12] 25 killed, 45 wounded (hospital claim)[13]
105 killed, 200 wounded, 45 captured (PUK claim)[14]

The Battle of Kirkuk (2017), also referred to as the Kirkuk Crisis,[15][16] was a military deployment by the Iraqi Security Forces to reclaim Kirkuk Governorate from Peshmerga forces, which sparked clashes between the two forces.[17] The advance began on 15 October 2017.[7] The international coalition described the events as "coordinated movements, not attacks",[5] with most of the Peshmerga withdrawing without fighting.[18]

Background[edit]

The battle followed the 2017 Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum when voters overwhelmingly supported (93%) "the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani areas outside the administration of the Region" to become an independent state. The Kurdish Regional Government considered the referendum binding, while the Iraqi government regarded it as illegal. The oil-rich and multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk was the subject of long-running dispute and is not recognized by the Iraqi government as part of the autonomous Kurdistan Region. Before ISIL invaded Kirkuk was under Iraqi control. Kirkuk was taken from ISIL by Kurdish forces. The Kurdish Peshmerga ignored a deadline given by Iraq to withdraw from the area by 15 October 2017[19] and the operation to take the territory back under the control of the central Iraqi government was initiated. Within 15 hours, the city of Kirkuk, surrounding oil fields and several facilities including the military airport were reoccupied by Iraqi forces.[6]

The battle[edit]

The Kurdish Peshmerga ignored a deadline given by Iraq to withdraw by 15 October 2017. This led to the Iraqi forces and the PMF militia retaking Kirkuk and its province on the same day. Within 15 hours the city of Kirkuk and the nearby K-1 Air Base, along with surrounding oilfields, were retaken by Iraqi forces.[20] The international coalition described the events as "...coordinated movements, not attacks...", with most Peshmerga withdrawing without fighting.[5] This was likely due to the fact that Hero and Bafel Talabani, leaders of the PUK Peshmerga, struck a deal with the Iraqis to withdraw without notifying the KDP Peshmerga. This, in turn, led to the collapse of Kurdish defenses, and to largescale accusations of betrayal on the part of the Talabani family by the KDP, since the day before the Battle of Kirkuk both parties met in Dukan and agreed to fight.[21] The same day, Iraqi forces advanced on and captured the city of Tuz Khurmatu in Saladin Province, 60 km south of Kirkuk,[22] as well as Kifri in the Diyala Governorate.[23]

On 16 October Iraqi forces continued to advance, seizing the Baba GurGur oil field. In Tuz Khurmatu two people were killed in exchanges of artillery fire.[24] Later in the day the Iraqi army announced that they had taken full control of the city as U.S.-trained counter-terrorism forces captured the provincial government headquarters. Afterwards celebrations could be heard from ethnic Turkmen in Kirkuk.[7][25] PUK Peshmerga units came to an agreement with the Iraqi government forces to withdraw from their positions in Kirkuk, but KDP affiliated Peshmerga units continued to resist the Iraqi advance, entrenching themselves in positions near the city of Dibis.[26] However, later on 16 October Kurdish units near Dibis received orders to withdraw and abandoned the city ahead of the Iraqi advance.[27] The Iraqi Government claimed on 16 October that it had taken full control of the city of Kirkuk.[7] Kurdish reports indicated that their lines to the south of the city of Kirkuk crumbled as soon as they were engaged by Iraqi M1A1 Abrams tanks.[11]

On 17 October Iraqi forces continued to advance, taking the Bai Hassan and Avana oil fields near Kirkuk.[28] By the end of 17 October the Iraqi government claimed to have retaken all of the oil facilities it had held prior to the ISIL advance on the area in 2014.[27] On 18 October the Iraqi government declared that they had completed its objectives in the offensive.[29] On 20 October, the Iraqi forces, composed of Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service units, Federal Police and Popular Mobilization Units, announced that after a three-hour battle they had secured the last Kurdish-controlled town of Altun Kupri in Kirkuk province, which was previously under Kurdish control.[30] This effectively allowed the Iraqi Government to secure control of the remainder of Kirkuk Province.[8]

Aftermath[edit]

Violence and displacement[edit]

Iraqi soldiers break a poster of Barzani

On 16 October, The Guardian posted video footage showing streams of ethnic Kurdish refugees fleeing Kirkuk in cars.[31] Many of the displaced returned after Iraqi President Haider el-Abadi promised on television that their lives and property would be preserved.[32] On 19 October, Nawzad Hadi, governor of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government, told reporters that around 18,000 families from Kirkuk and the town of Tuz Khurmatu had taken refuge in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah, inside KRG territory.[33] A Hadi aide told Reuters news agency the total number of displaced people was about 100,000.[34] The figure could not be independently verified and Reuters reported that many Kurdish neighbourhoods in Kirkuk city appeared to not have experienced many evacuations.[35] Hemin Hawrami, a senior assistant to KRG President Masoud Barzani, said in a post on Twitter that 57,000 families from Kirkuk were in need of "immediate assistance" after arriving in Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Duhok provinces. He said that people had fled "violence, looting and crimes" inflicted by the Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF), paramilitary units largely made up of Iranian trained Shia militias.[33] A refugee told Al Jazeera they had fled because "At night, they come out and beat the youth. They have burned houses."[33] The United Nations released a statement that it was "concerned about reports regarding the destruction and looting of houses, businesses and political offices, and forced displacement of civilians, predominantly Kurds, from disputed areas",[36] and urged that the perpetrators be brought to justice.[37][38] A total of 85,000 civilians have returned to their homes in Kirkuk a source inside the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced on 23 October 2017.[39]

On 19 October it was reported that UN relief offices received reports that 150 houses in the town of Tuz Khurmatu were burnt down and 11 houses were blown up, while the offices of local Turkmen political parties which had supported Kurdish independence were subjected to assaults.[33][37][38] Prime Minister al-Abadi described the incidents as having been caused by "extremist elements from both sides".[40] Al-Abadi accused social media instigators of posting fake videos of the alleged violations. Niqash confirmed the increase of fake news and hundreds of fake videos and pictures. Leaders on both sides say it is leading to a dangerous escalation of tensions in northern Iraq.<[41] The Iranian-backed Shi'ite Hashd al-Shaabi militia is reported to have detonated and burned homes owned by ethnic Kurds, and, while wearing the uniforms of the Iraqi federal police, used security as a pretext to raid the homes of Kurds and commit acts of violence.[42]

On 25 October, Reuters reported that humanitarian organizations estimated that the number of Kurds displaced from the city of Tuz Khurmato was 30,000 out of a total population of around 100,000;[43] Amnesty International noted that "satellite images, videos, photos and dozens of testimonies indicate that hundreds of properties were looted, set on fire and destroyed in what appeared to be a targeted attack on predominantly Kurdish areas of the city of about 100,000 people."[43] According to an Oxfam manager, Kurdish refugees from Tuz Khurmatu were staying in the open and in public places such as mosques and schools, and were in dire need of emergency aid and psychological support due to the traumatic incidents they had witnessed.[43] Amnesty International said that at least 11 people had been killed, citing the testimony of those who had escaped from the city, and said they had been attacked by Turkmen Shiite militiamen.[43]

Reactions[edit]

  •  Turkey: In a statement on 16 October 2017 the ministry said that Turkey closely monitors Iraq's steps to "restore its constitutional sovereignty over Kirkuk, a homeland for Turkmens for centuries, after the illegitimate referendum conducted by the KRG".[44]
  •  Iraq: In a statement the Iraqi government accused Kurdish authorities of bringing fighters from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to the disputed province of Kirkuk, in a move it called a "declaration of war".[45]
  • Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR): In a statement on 16 October 2017 the international coalition announced that coalition forces and advisors are not supporting either the Government of Iraq or the Kurdistan Regional Government activities near Kirkuk and strongly urged all sides to avoid escalatory actions.[46]
  • Rival Kurdish factions accused each other of betraying Kirkuk to Iraqi forces.[18]
  • KRG Vice President Kosrat Rasul called the Iraqi forces in Kirkuk and other areas an "occupation"; for this, Iraq's Supreme Court Justice Council ordered his arrest.[33]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Guerrilla forces, Popular Crowd engage in clashes in central Kirkuk". Hawar News Agency. 16 October 2017. Retrieved 17 October 2017. 
  2. ^ "HPG statement on Kirkuk". ANF News. 16 October 2017. Retrieved 17 October 2017. 
  3. ^ "Kurdistan Peshmerga:Reports of PKK in Kirkuk untrue". Rudaw. 16 October 2017. Retrieved 16 October 2017. 
  4. ^ "Iraqi forces complete Kirkuk province takeover after clashes with Kurds". Reuters. 20 October 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c "Coalition Statement on Military Movements Near Kirkuk". Operation Inherent Resolve. 
  6. ^ a b "Iraq forces in full control of Kirkuk province". www.aljazeera.com. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Baghdad: Iraqi forces in full control of Kirkuk". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 16 October 2017. 
  8. ^ a b "Clashes as Iraqi army takes last Kurd-held area of Kirkuk province". The Jordan Times. 21 October 2017. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  9. ^ a b "Iraqi forces, Shiite militia engage in fighting with Peshmerga south of Kirkuk". Rudaw. Retrieved 16 October 2017. 
  10. ^ "Kerkük'te Türkmenler güvenliklerini kendileri sağlamaya başladı". Anadolu Ajansı. 
  11. ^ a b "US Abrams tanks sway the battle in Kirkuk". Army Times. 19 October 2017. 
  12. ^ "استمرار المواجهات العسكرية في كركوك". Rudaw.net. Retrieved 18 October 2017. 
  13. ^ "The Latest: Iraqi PM calls for dialogue after Kirkuk". AzDailySun.com. Retrieved 18 October 2017. 
  14. ^ Peshmerga commander reveals details about Kirkuk attack
  15. ^ "US urges calm as Kirkuk crisis escalates". BBC News. 17 October 2017. 
  16. ^ "State Department: Kirkuk Crisis 'Not Over by Any means'". Voice of America. 18 October 2017. 
  17. ^ "Iraqi forces launch 'major' Kirkuk operation". Al-Jazeera. Retrieved 16 October 2017. 
  18. ^ a b "A new war in Iraq, now between Shia Arabs and Kurds". The Economist. 16 October 2017. 
  19. ^ "الانسحاب من كركوك.. مهلة للبيشمركة تنتهي الليلة". 
  20. ^ "Baghdad: Iraqi forces in full control of Kirkuk". www.aljazeera.com. 16 October 2017. Retrieved 17 October 2017. 
  21. ^ "Mutual accusations after the withdrawal". 
  22. ^ "Baghdad forces seize Tuz Khurmatu amid Kirkuk operation". Anadolu Agency. 16 October 2017. Retrieved 17 October 2017. 
  23. ^ "Peshmerga to withdraw from Dilaya governorate – Egypt Today". Egypt Today. 16 October 2017. Retrieved 17 October 2017. 
  24. ^ France-Presse, Agence (16 October 2017). "Iraqi and Kurdish forces battle over Kirkuk as 'major operation' launched". Retrieved 16 October 2017 – via www.telegraph.co.uk. 
  25. ^ "Iraqi forces seize Kirkuk from Kurds in bold advance". Reuters. 15 October 2017. Retrieved 16 October 2017. 
  26. ^ Zucchino, David (16 October 2017). "Iraqi Forces Sweep Into Kirkuk, Checking Kurdish Independence Drive". Retrieved 16 October 2017 – via www.nytimes.com. 
  27. ^ a b Zucchino, David (17 October 2017). "Iraqi Forces Retake All Oil Fields in Disputed Areas as Kurds Retreat". Retrieved 18 October 2017 – via www.NYTimes.com. 
  28. ^ Morris, Loveday; El-Ghobashy, Tamer; Shwan, Aaso Ameen (17 October 2017). "Iraqi forces move deeper into Kurdish-held areas, redrawing political map". Retrieved 18 October 2017 – via www.WashingtonPost.com. 
  29. ^ "Iraq's military declares mission accomplished in Kirkuk". www.aljazeera.com. 
  30. ^ "Iraqi forces complete takeover of Kirkuk province after clashing with Kurds". Reuters. 20 October 2017. Retrieved 2017-10-20. 
  31. ^ "US military rushes to defuse looming crisis in Kirkuk after Iraqi army advances". The Guardian. 16 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017. 
  32. ^ "عودة النازحين إلى كركوك". Euronews (in Arabic). 18 October 2017. 
  33. ^ a b c d e "'100,000 flee Kirkuk' since Iraqi army takeover". Al Jazeera. 20 October 2017. 
  34. ^ "About 100,000 Kurds have fled Kirkuk since Monday: Kurdish officials". Reuters. 19 October 2017. 
  35. ^ Chmaytelli, Maher. "Kurdish officials say thousands flee Kirkuk since Iraqi army takeover". IN. 
  36. ^ "U.N. concerned over alleged assaults on Kurds in Kirkuk". 
  37. ^ a b "UPDATE 1-UN concerned by reports of forced diplacement of Kurds in N. Iraq". Reuters. 19 October 2017. Kirkuk residents said on Wednesday that offices belonging to Turkmen parties who supported the Kurdish referendum were attacked in Kirkuk. 
  38. ^ a b "UN Expresses Concern about Reports of Violence in Tuz Khurmatu, in Kirkuk [EN/AR/KU]". ReliefWeb. 19 October 2017. 
  39. ^ "85,000 of displaced civilians return to their homes in Kirkuk". The Baghdad Post. 23 October 2017. 
  40. ^ "UN relief offices" (PDF). The United Nations takes note of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's acknowledgement of incidents caused by what he described as extremist elements from both sides and his decision to send the Iraqi army to restore order in Tuz Khurmatu 
  41. ^ Qader, Histyar. "Dangerous Growth Of Fake News Increases Tensions In Northern Iraq". Niqash. 
  42. ^ "[PICTURES]: Iranian-backed Shi'ite Militias Destroy Kurdish Properties in Tuz Khurmatu". Bas. 22 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017. 
  43. ^ a b c d Reuters Staff (25 October 2017). "Nearly 30,000 Kurds displaced from city near Kirkuk: aid groups". Reuters. Retrieved 29 October 2017. 
  44. ^ "Turkey supports Iraq's moves to restore peace, order in Kirkuk, MFA says". Daily Sabah. 16 October 2017. Retrieved 16 October 2017. 
  45. ^ "Iraq accuses Kurds of 'declaration of war' in Kirkuk". aljazeera.com. 
  46. ^ "Coalition Statement on Military Movements Near Kirkuk". 16 October 2017. Retrieved 16 October 2017.