Iraq has said that Kirkuk, part of the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed both Erbil and Baghdad, should come under the control of the central government. Photo: Rudaw TV
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region – Kamal Kirkuki, a Peshmerga commander, claimed the Iraqi army stationed near Kirkuk has given the Peshmerga an ultimatum: leave their posts in areas surrounding Kirkuk by midnight on Saturday or face an attack. Iraqi officials have denied the existence of any deadlines.
"We will respond with full force if attacked” after midnight, Kirkuki told Rudaw.
Kurdistan's Security Council has also said there is a deadline in place.
"Iraqi forces have threatened to attack Peshmerga positions in south [and] west of Kirkuk at midnight unless all forces stand down," it said in a tweet.
Saad al-Hadithi, spokesperson for the Iraqi prime minister, speaking to Sky News Arabic on Saturday night, denied they have set a deadline for the Peshmerga to hand over key areas in Kirkuk. He, however, said they have a mandate from the Iraqi parliament, backed by the regional and international communities, to impose federal authority in disputed areas, including Kirkuk.
Ayub Yousif, a Peshmerga general, told Rudaw Sunday that about 5,000 Peshmerga fighters are on duty south and west of Kirkuk with orders to engage in fighting if attacked by the Iraqi forces, and the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi.
He had earlier told Rudaw that the Iraqi forces want to enter Kirkuk city.
“Their demand is to take over the airport, the oil factories, the urban areas. In short, they want to take over Kirkuk,” the Peshmerga general said.
“We took these areas with blood,” he continued, vowing they will defend the areas with more blood.
Many civilian people have taken up arms across the city of Kirkuk since Saturday night, determined to defend the city against any aggression.
Najmaldin Karim, the Kirkuk Governor visited some of the crowd as the cheering people welcomed him.
“These people are showing their loyalty to their land, their nation, and their country,” Karim told reporters about the armed civilians.
“They know that this city exists because of the blood of the martyrs, the graves of those who suffered Anfal [genocide], and those whose fate are unknown. The enemy should not think that they can easily make threats and enter our beloved city,” the governor continued.
“They want to turn Kirkuk into Tuz Khurmatu,” Karim said of the diverse town of Khurmatu, about 75 km south of Kirkuk where the Hashd al-Shaabi has a strong presence.
“They are daydreaming,” the crowd replied to the governor of the Iraqi forces and Hashd al-Shaabi who are reportedly preparing to attack the city.
“Not only do we not allow Kirkuk to be turned into [Khurmatu], we will also turn Khurmatu into Kirkuk,” the governor vowed to the crowd.
Asked about a possibility of a deadline said to have been set by the Iraqi forces, the governor said that “We do not care,” since the Kurdish security forces, backed by the people of Kirkuk are prepared to defend the city.
“The Hashd al-Shaabi have to leave. If not, they will have a dreadful fate,” he said, explaining that the Hashd and Iraqi forces have to move back to the Hamrin mountain range, a natural line that the Kurds believe separates their historic lands from the rest of Iraq.
Iranian Guards with Iraqi forces near Kirkuk, Peshmerga claim