Erbil, Baghdad, London– Kurdish Peshmerga forces retreated to positions they had held in northern Iraq in June 2014 in response to an Iraqi army advance into the region after a Kurdish independence referendum, a senior Iraqi commander said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish regional electoral commission halted on Wednesday preparations for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled to be held on November 1 due to the current crisis in Kirkuk province and lack of candidates.
In a statement released, the regional Independent High Electoral and Referendum Commission (IHERC) said it decided to suspend the preparations for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections due to the recent violence in Kirkuk and other disputed territories.
An Iraqi military statement said government forces had taken control of Kurdish-held areas of Nineveh province, including Mosul and the hydro-electric dam.
On Monday, Iraqi forces recaptured the major oil city of Kirkuk to the south shortly after the Peshmerga abandoned it.
Reuters pointed out that Bashiqa residents celebrated in the streets the retreat of Peshmerga and their replacement by Iraqi Troops.
Backed by the US, Peshmerga forces drove ISIS out of the area and gained control over several areas outside of official and semi-independent border of Kurdistan, including Kirkuk which Kurds demand to include as part of their sovereignty.
Peshmerga had advanced into Nineveh and the Kirkuk region over the past three years as part of the war against ISIS militants, filling a void left by a temporary collapse of the Iraqi army in the face of an ISIS onslaught.
“As of today we reversed the clock back to 2014,” the Iraqi army commander, who spoke on condition of animosity, told Reuters.
DW Germany news agency reported Iraqi sources saying that clashes erupted between the Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces near Mahmoudiyyah town, northwest of Mosul.
Sources told the agency that an army unit arrived in the town without any prior coordination with Peshmerga which led to the clashes, but commander of west Nineveh operations Lieutenant Karim Shweili arrived in the area and contained the situation.
Meanwhile, Rudaw agency posted a video that has been widely shared on social media showing a young man jumping on a vehicle of the Iraqi police force in Kirkuk. Although the vehicle was moving, the young man was able to take the Iraqi flag down.
The young man was part of a group of people who protested Iraqi forces’ presence.
In addition, a video circulated on social media showing a member of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) standing before photos of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei hung on the wall of the Kirkuk governorate’s building. The video angered Kirkuk civilians who refused such actions.
The fighter said that PMF have now taken over the shelters of Peshmerga.
“We reclaimed Kirkuk. Are you not ashamed? Where are the men? Did you not say “we are men coming from Erbil and Sulaimani to preserve Kirkuk and Kirkuk is ours”? Where are you?,” he said.
He also confirmed: “I am now in Kirkuk. We are now inside the governorate’s building.”
PMF and Iraqi forces controlled Kirkuk and nearby areas after Peshmerga forces retreated from it. Commander of Tigris operations Maj-Gen Ali Fadil Amraa told DW that security work within Kirkuk is restricted to local police.
DW also reported a security source saying the Directorate of National Security in Kirkuk had apprehended several persons who claimed they belonged to PMF, searching houses in the city, after which security forces and police toured the Kurdish areas to assures civilians.
Streets between Kirkuk and Erbil were crowded with Kurdish residents who continued to flee Kirkuk, fearing abuse or arrests. Large numbers have headed towards Sulaimania.
Kurdish member of Iraqi parliament Renas Jano believes that the incidents in Kirkuk aim at targeting the strong position of Kurdistan.
Jano told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that Iran entered Kirkuk aiming to weaken Peshmerga capabilities to an extent they can’t do anything in the post-ISIS era.
He explained that real changes will happen after ISIS has been terminated, and stated that after the decision of US concerning the nuclear deal, Iran is trying to fully control Iraq. He believes Tehran wants to do so for two reasons: compensate the financial losses of wars in Syria and Yemen through Iraqi oil, and overcome human losses it suffered during the war in Syria by employing other forces in Iraq like the PMF.
Jano considered the incidents occurring in Kirkuk a genocide against its civilians.
Meanwhile, head of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Kirkuk Aso Mamand announced that he was informed by the Iraqi forces that the city council would convene on Thursday to select a new governor.
He told reporters on Wednesday that some PMF fighters have stormed Kurdish houses, but described the situation as generally “calm.”
In addition, Vice president of Kurdistan and deputy leader of PUK Kosart Rasul Ali warned in a statement that what is happening is another Anfal against Kurds, in reference to a similar campaign they suffered in Baghdad during the residency of late President Saddam Hussein.
“Some apostates abandoned the PUK’s doctrine without returning to our party’s leadership and became the invaders’ assistant to obtain some personal, temporary gains. With this disgusting act, they are slipping themselves into the black pages of the history of our nation, humiliated,” he added.