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Kurds Withdraw as Iraqi Forces Move into Kirkuk

A member of Iraqi security forces takes down the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017. (REUTERS/Stringer)
Kurds Withdraw as Iraqi Forces Move into Kirkuk
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Iraqi troops seized oil fields and the area around Kirkuk in response to last month’s Kurdish vote for independence.

Tensions have grown since the Kurds voted for independence from Iraq. The Iraqi central government in Baghdad, as well as Turkey, Iran and the United States, rejected the vote.

But midday Monday, Iraqi federal forces took several major oil fields north of Kirkuk, as well as the city’s airport and an important military base, according to Iraqi commanders. Kurdish party headquarters inside Kirkuk were abandoned.

In a statement, the United States military task force in Iraq described the fighting outside Kirkuk as a “misunderstanding.” The U.S. has armed, trained and supported both sides in the fight against the Islamic State group.

After reports of clashes in and around the city, Kurdish forces -- known as the peshmerga – appeared to withdraw without much of a fight.

Local police remained in place in Kirkuk. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi called on civil servants to remain at their posts to serve the city.

Still, thousands of people could be seen carrying their belongings and heading north to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

Members of Iraqi federal forces gather near oil fields in Kirkuk, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2017. (Reuters)
Members of Iraqi federal forces gather near oil fields in Kirkuk, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2017. (Reuters)

Kirkuk is home to about 1 million Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians. The city has been at the center of a long-running dispute between the autonomous Kurdish government and the central government in Baghdad. Both are close allies of the U.S.

The Iraqi government and the Kurds have long been divided over the sharing of oil money as well as over disputed territories like Kirkuk. The city is controlled by Kurdish forces but is outside of their self-ruled region.

The Kurds took control of Kirkuk, a major oil-producing area, in 2014. At the time, Islamic State militants had advanced across northern Iraq and the country’s armed forces collapsed.

Iraq has since rebuilt its armed forces with U.S. aid. And they are driving out IS militants from most of the territory they once held.

Shiite Arab militias backed by Iran are fighting alongside the Iraqi armed forces in Kirkuk. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said the militias will remain outside the city, however.

Al-Iraqiya, the Iraqi government TV network, reported that the prime minister ordered federal forces to “impose security in the city in cooperation with the inhabitants and the peshmerga.”

Since the September independence vote, the Iraqi government has been pushing Kurdish leaders to accept shared administration of the oil-rich area.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on AP and Reuters news reports. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

response - n. ​ something that is done as a reaction to something else​

according to - prep. ​as stated, reported, or recorded by (someone or something)​

abandon - v. ​to leave (a place) because of danger​

advance - v. to move forward

impose - v. ​to force someone to accept​

autonomous - adj. having the power or right to govern itself

region - n. part of a country (or the world) that is different or separate from other parts in some way

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