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Iraq forces in full control of Kirkuk province

Iraqi forces and allied Shia militias claim control of Kirkuk province after intense battle against Kurdish forces.

Shia Popular Mobilization Forces

FAST FACTS

  • Kirkuk province is a governorate in northern Iraq
  • The governorate has an area of 9,679sq km
  • In 2017, the estimated population was 1.3 million people 
  • The provincial capital is the city of Kirkuk 

Iraqi forces have claimed control of all of Kirkuk province after intense fighting against Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

The army says it captured the last town, Altun Kupri, near Erbil, with the help of Shia paramilitaries early on Saturday after a three-hour battle.

Peshmerga were sending reinforcements to fight the army and their allied militias on the front line north of Kirkuk, while Iraqi forces were trying to push the Peshmerga further towards Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital.

The fighting continued around Altun Kupri, about 40km northwest of Kirkuk, on the Erbil-Kirkuk road.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's ordered the army not to enter Erbil's city limits, saying they will protect civilians and their property, while respecting what he called the 2003 perimeters of the disputed area.

The Kurds took up new positions three days after they pulled out of Kirkuk following a dramatic push by the government army, aided by Hashd al-Shaabi, or Shia militias.

Kurdish leaders estimated about 100,000 people fled the area since the operation began.

'They turned their backs on us'

Ibrahim Mirza, a Peshmerga soldier, said there were casualties among the Kurdish forces.

"Yes, they are attacking in Altun Kupri and there is nothing we can do about it, honestly. I'm urging the coalition forces to come and help us. It hit the Peshmerga. No doubt we have martyrs there."

Many Peshmerga said felt betrayed by the Iraqi government in Baghdad, some fellow Kurds, and the international community.


READ MORE: Iraq's military declares mission accomplished in Kirkuk


Speaking from Kirkuk, Nazm Harki, the commander of the 10th division Peshmerga, said: "In reality, when we used to fight ISIL everyone praised the Peshmerga - 'they are brave they are fighting for the world'. But now they are attacking us.

"As I see it, everyone is turning their backs on us," the commander said.

Last month's referendum on secession was seen as the final straw for the Iraq government and neighbouring countries that oppose Kurdish independence.

Abadi said Kurdish hopes for an independent state were now "a thing of the past".

Since the central government started its operation in the disputed areas, its forces have captured most territory without clashes from the withdrawing Peshmerga.

The Peshmerga seized Kirkuk, Iraq's second oil hub, in mid-2014 when Iraqi troops withdrew from the advancing ISIL group.


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