Police guard Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk

Source:Reuters Published: 2017/9/19 23:08:40

Tensions rise ahead of Kurdish independence vote

Police deployed overnight in the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk to prevent any outbreak of ethnic violence ahead of a referendum on Kurdish independence strongly opposed by the Baghdad government, local residents said.

The Kurdish region plans to hold the September 25 vote despite an Iraqi government warning it is "playing with fire" and US declarations that the move could undermine the fight against Islamic State militants. The referendum could raise particular tension in Kirkuk, where Kurds vie with Turkmen and Arabs for power.

Kurdish security and the city police erected checkpoints across Kirkuk after a Kurd was killed in a clash with the guards of a Turkmen political party office in the city.

Two other Kurds and a Turkmen security guard were wounded in the clash that broke out when a Kurdish convoy celebrating the referendum, carrying Kurdish flags, drove by the Turkmen party office, according to security sources. The Kurdish dead and wounded were among those celebrating, they said.

Turkey, which has put troops and tanks on exercises close to the border with the Kurdish region, has long seen itself as the protector of Iraq's Turkmen minority. When Iraqi Kurds raised their flag over the city in April, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan declared that Kirkuk could not be a Kurdish city.

But Ankara has cultivated close political and business ties with the Kurdish regional government, and would be loath to disrupt commerce, especially in oil, through any intervention.

Tensions rose after the Kurdish-led provincial council voted this month to include Kirkuk in the referendum despite the fact that the city lies outside the official boundaries of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters prevented Kirkuk's oilfields from falling into Islamic State hands when they seized the city and other disputed territories when the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of an IS advance in 2014.

In recent months, IS has been driven back across Iraq, but remains dug in close to Kirkuk.

Iraqi armed forces announced on Tuesday the start of an attack to dislodge Islamic State from the town of Ana as they push westward toward al-Qaim, the border post with Syria.

Posted in: MID-EAST

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