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Iraqi and Kurdish forces clash at Kirkuk
Iraqi forces and Kurdish militants fired at each other near the Kurdish city of Kirkuk on Sunday, with several dozen Kurdish militants suffering injuries.
By Leon Clarke
Feb 17, 2018

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WASHINGTON D.C. — Rockets fired south of the Kurdish city of Kirkuk in Iraq on Sunday as Iraqi forces and local Kurdish peshmergas confronted each other in the wake of a recent Kurdish vote for independence. Several dozen Kurdish fighters reportedly suffered injuries during the clash, while the U.S. State Department said it was "very concerned" about the exchange of fire and said that is was "monitoring the situation in Kirkuk closely."

Iraqi military forces took control of some areas around Kirkuk without firing any shots and were focusing on seizing the K1 airbase, west of the city, according to an Iraqi general. Kurdish forces, meanwhile, were under orders from the Kurdish president, Masoud Barzani, to not initiate any combat but to respond if attacked. Kirkuk's governor, however, told city residents that their peshmerga militias would defend them against the approaching Iraqi forces.

"We saw some of the young people who expressed their readiness to help their Peshmerga brothers to defend the land," he told Rudaw, a Kurdish media network.

Kurdish fighters have held Kirkuk since mid-2014, after Iraqi forces evacuated it in fear of the advancing Islamic State forces. Tensions have flared in recent weeks between the Kurds and Iraqi government, following a Kurdish vote for independence from Baghdad. Baghdad, Iran, and Turkey have blockaded the region, and Iraqi forces deployed Friday to take control of the city while Peshmerga militants assembled to keep them at bay.

Political leaders on both sides have convened, and the threats of an all-out battle have subsided for the time being. Haider Al-Abadi, Iraq's prime minister, said that Iraq's forces are under orders to "impose security" on Kirkuk but added that there is no plan to launch an attack.