KRG blocks Iraqi forces access to Kirkuk’s oil fields, airbase
BAGHDAD – Reuters
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters rejected a warning from an Iraqi paramilitary force to withdraw from a strategic junction south of Kirkuk, which controls the access to some of the region’s main oilfields, a Kurdish security official told Reuters Oct. 15.
Meanwhile, Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani arrived in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) territory on Oct. 15 for talks about the escalating crisis between the Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi government following last month’s Kurdish independence referendum.
Soleimani is the commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards providing training and weapons to Iraqi paramilitary groups backing the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad, known as Popular Mobilization.
Popular Mobilization had given the Peshmerga until midnight local time on Oct. 14 to leave a position north of the Maktab Khalid junction, an official from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Security Council said.
Ali al-Hussaini, a spokesman for the paramilitary groups known as Hashid Shaabi in Arabic, told Reuters the deadline had expired without giving indications about their next move.
“We are waiting for new orders, no extension is expected,” he said.
The KRG position north of the junction controls the access to an important airbase and Bai Hassan, one of the main crude oil fields of the region, the KRG official said.
The city, the airbase and their immediate surroundings, including the oilfields, are under Kurdish control.
There were no clashes reported hours after the deadline on Oct. 15, but a resident said dozens of young Kurds took up arms and were deployed in the streets of Kirkuk with machine guns as the news of the warning spread.
Kurdish authorities said on Oct. 13 they had sent thousands more troops to Kirkuk to confront Iraqi “threats.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly denied any plans to attack the Kurds.