Iraqi Forces Launch Offensive in Kurdish-Held Kirkuk

Casualties have been reported in the Kurdish-held Iraqi city of Kirkuk as forces from the central government backed by Shia militias (Al Jazeera) launched a major offensive early Monday to take the city.

The operation marks the first use of force by Baghdad (NYT) in response to an independence referendum held in the autonomous Kurdistan region last month that was opposed by the Iraqi and U.S. governments. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he is fulfilling his duty to protect “the unity of the country” (Rudaw), while Iraqi forces claim they have taken control of some areas including Kirkuk’s K-1 military base. The multiethnic city has been under Kurdish control since 2014 following the removal of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Bloomberg) there.


“The flare-up presents an awkward dilemma for the United States, which has trained and equipped the advancing Iraqi troops, which include elite counterterrorism forces, and the Kurdish peshmerga on the other side,” Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim write for the Washington Post.

“The [Kurdistan Regional Government] has for years made its claim to Kirkuk clear in words and actions. U.S. oil companies, including ExxonMobil, have given stature to such claims by signing oil exploration deals with the KRG for oil fields in disputed territories,” writes CFR’s Amy Myers Jaffe.

“Arab communities have felt strongly about [Kirkuk], believing the lands should remain the home to Christian, Yazidi, Shabak, and Turkmen communities displaced by the Islamic State,” Suadad al-Salhy writes for Middle East Eye.