Kurdish military officials say that ‘calm’ has been restored after the chaotic takeover of the disputed territories. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - It took Kurdish Peshmarga fighters less than two days to take full control of not only the oil rich city of Kirkuk, but also most of the long-disputed territories that Kurds claim as their own.
Following the surrender and departure of Iraq’s army from these territories -- after the swift takeover of Mosul by insurgents -- Kurdish Peshmerga forces were deployed along the disputed areas to “fill the power vacuum,” Kurdish military officials have said.
Late on Friday, the Kurdish ministry of Peshmerga (defense) stated that, except for some areas, “The entire Kurdish territories outside Kurdistan Region were now in the hands of the Kurdish forces.”
The statement confidently reassured that “the Kurdish troops have no intention of leaving the area.”
“We are here to stay,” it declared. “Basically, all Kurdish villages and localities are now protected by the Peshmerga forces.”
Even the remote border gate of Rabia on the Syrian border is now fully managed by the Peshmerga. The ministry also said that all Kurdish areas in Nineveh province are now under the control of Peshmerga forces.
The township of Saadiya, which was captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earlier this week, is now the focal point of the Peshmerga advancement. A special Kurdish infantry division entered the locality of Kubatshi, which lies only two kilometers from Saadiya, for a possible march on the township.
In the locality of Qaratapa, an entire Iraqi army division surrendered its weaponry to the Peshmerga forces. Kurdish officials said the weapons would be later returned to the Iraqi army in Baghdad.
Also, the town of Jalawla is now in the hands of Kurdish forces, after a brief confrontation between Peshmarga troops and ISIS militants. Officials said more than half the city’s population had already fled to more secure regions.
Kurdish military officials have stated their ultimate goal is to move into Saadiya.
A statement by the Peshmerga ministry said that Kurdish forces have been stationed across the Hamrain Mountains, which is considered to be the frontier region between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. The statement said that “calm” had been restored, after the chaotic takeover of the areas three days earlier.
Following the removal of Saddam Hussein, Peshmarga forces took over most of the disputed territories in 2003, but left the areas after a deal was brokered between Erbil and Baghdad as to how to settle the fate of these territories.
In some of these areas, Kurds and the Iraqi army have been running joint checkpoints. Kurdish forces were deployed to the areas once again in 2008, after a brief stand-off between the Iraqi military and Peshmerga troops near the city of Khanaqin.
Iraqi forces pulled out of Kirkuk late Wednesday. Peshmarga forces have been in charge of the city, including its military airbase, since Thursday.