Sunday 24 June 2018

Iraq national forces make further gains as Kurds withdraw from Sinjar

This image made from a video shows Iraqi soldiers in the Qatash area south of Kirkuk, Iraq (APTN via AP)
This image made from a video shows Iraqi soldiers in the Qatash area south of Kirkuk, Iraq (APTN via AP)

Kurdish forces lost more territory in Iraq on Tuesday, withdrawing from the town of Sinjar a day after Iraqi forces pushed them out of the disputed city of Kirkuk.

Meanwhile, thousands of civilians were seen streaming back to Kirkuk, driving along a main road to the city's east.

The Kurdish forces had built an earthen barrier along the road, reinforced by armoured vehicles, but were allowing civilians to return to the city.

Many returnees were seen with their children and belongings packed tight in their cars.

The Iraqi forces' retaking of Kirkuk came only two weeks after they had fought together with the Kurdish fighters to neutralise the Islamic State group in Iraq, their common enemy.

As Kirkuk's Arab and Turkmen residents on Monday evening celebrated the change of power, thousands of Kurdish residents, fearful of federal and Shiite militia rule, packed the roads north to Irbil, the capital of the northern autonomous Kurdish region.

On Tuesday, they were going back.

When Iraq's armed forces crumbled in the face of an advance by Islamic State group in 2014, Kurdish forces moved into Kirkuk to secure the city and its surrounding oil wells though it was 20 miles outside the Kurds' autonomous region in northeast Iraq.

Baghdad has since insisted Kirkuk and its province be returned to the central government, but matters came to a head when the Kurdish authorities expanded their referendum last month to include Kirkuk.

To the Iraqi central government, that looked like Kurdish expansionism.

The city of more than one million is home to Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, as well as Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

By midday on Monday, federal forces had moved into several major oil fields north of the city, as well as the Kirkuk airport and an important military base, according to Iraqi commanders.

Kurdish party headquarters inside Kirkuk had been abandoned.

In the predominantly Yazidi town of Sinjar, Masloum Shingali, commander of the local Yazidi militia, said Kurdish forces had left before dawn on Tuesday, allowing Iraqi Shiite militiamen to move in.

The Yazidis were massacred by the Islamic State group when the jihadis seized the town in 2014.

More than 2,000 were killed, and thousands of women and children were taken into slavery.

Kurdish forces, supported by US air strikes, liberated the town in 2015.

Town mayor Mahma Khalil said the Iranian-supported Popular Mobilisation militia forces were securing Sinjar.

The militias are recognized by Iraq's government as a part of its armed forces but are viewed with deep suspicion by the country's Kurdish authorities, which see them as an instrument of Tehran.

The Kurdish forces "left immediately, they didn't want to fight", Mr Shingali said.

The Shiite militia had supported Iraqi forces' to oust Kurdish troops out of Kirkuk.

The Kurdish forces withdrew to their autonomous region in the northeast.

AP

Press Association

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