After a three-year hiatus, Iraq’s central government has reassumed control of most disputed parts of the country, including the oil-rich Kirkuk province.
Tension between Baghdad and northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has steadily mounted since the latter held an illegitimate referendum last month on Kurdish regional independence.
On Sept. 25, Iraqis in KRG-controlled parts of the country -- and in several disputed areas, including Kirkuk -- voted on whether or not to declare independence from the Iraqi state.
Baghdad has reacted to the poll with alarm, urging the KRG to annul the referendum results and -- this week -- deploying military forces to disputed parts of the country.
Early Tuesday, Iraqi joint forces -- including army troops, Federal Police units and Hashd al-Shaabi fighters -- entered Kirkuk city following a tactical withdrawal by pro-KRG Peshmerga forces.
On the operation’s first day, Iraqi forces assumed control of several strategic facilities in Kirkuk province, including the North Oil Company, the Baba Gurgur oilfield, the K1 military base, the Mullah Abdullah oil refinery, Kirkuk’s main airport and the Tikrit Bridge, among others.
Shortly afterward, Iraqi troops moved into several other areas of dispute, including the districts of Sinjar, Makhmur and Bashiqa in Mosul.
Iraqi forces have also since assumed control of the Rabia border crossing with Syria, the Mosul Dam and the Khanaqin district in Diyala province.
Peshmerga forces had earlier withdrawn from these areas, which they seized following the Daesh terrorist group’s onslaught in northern and western Iraq in mid-2014.
During the three years of Peshmerga control of Kirkuk, the province’s Bey Hasan and Havana oilfields had accounted for half of the KRG’s total oil exports.
It is now estimated that the loss of these two oilfields will reduce the KRG’s total oil exports by some 300,000 barrels per day.
Along with the entire province of Kirkuk, disputed parts of Iraq include the Tuz Khurmatu district in Saladin province; the Khanaqin district in Diyala province; and the Makhmur, Sinjar and Sheikhan districts in Mosul.
By Idris Okuducu in Erbil