Kurds seize dis­puted oil hub amid Iraq chaos

The Covington News - - WORLD -

KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) — Af­ter a decades-long dis­pute be­tween Arabs and Kurds over the oil-rich north­ern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, it took just an hour and a half for its fate to be de­cided.

As al-Qaida-in­spired mil­i­tants ad­vanced across north­ern Iraq and se­cu­rity forces melted away, Kur­dish fighters who have long dom­i­nated Kirkuk or­dered Iraqi troops out and seized full con­trol of the re­gional oil hub and sur­round­ing ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to a mid-rank­ing Army of­fi­cer. He said he was told to sur­ren­der his weapons and leave his base.

His ac­count was cor­rob­o­rated by an Arab tribal sheik and a pho­tog­ra­pher who wit­nessed the loot­ing of army bases af­ter troops left and who re­lated sim­i­lar ac­counts of the takeover from rel­a­tives in the army. All three spoke to The As­so­ci­ated Press Fri­day on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they feared ret­ri­bu­tion from Kur­dish forces.

“They said they would de­fend Kirkuk from the Is­lamic State,” said the Arab of­fi­cer, who over­saw a ware­house in the city’s cen­tral mil­i­tary base. He asked that his rank not be made pub­lic.

He in­sisted the Iraqi troops had not planned to re­treat be­fore the Is­lamic state. “We were ready to bat­tle to death. We were com­pletely ready,” he said at a road­side rest house just in­side the semi-au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion.

The Kur­dish takeover of the long-dis­puted city came days af­ter the ex­trem­ist Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant and other Sunni mil­i­tants seized much of the coun­try’s sec­ond largest city of Mo­sul and Sad­dam Hus­sein’s home­town of Tikrit be­fore driv­ing south to­ward Bagh­dad. Their light­ning ad­vance has plunged the coun­try into its worst cri­sis since the 2011 with­drawal of U.S. troops.

A spokesman for Kur­dish forces, known as the pesh­merga, said they had only moved in af­ter Iraqi troops re­treated, as­sum­ing con­trol of the “ma­jor­ity of the Kur­dis­tan re­gion” out­side the semi-au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish Re­gional Govern­ment.

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