Iraqi premier orders hoisting of national flag in Kirkuk, other Kurdish regions

Press TV – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered the hoisting of Iraqi national flag in the country’s oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk as well as other areas under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The development came shortly after a convoy of Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces took control of the governorate building in the central part of Kirkuk, located 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of capital Baghdad, facing no resistance from Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the city.

According to the city’s residents, before hoisting the national flag, Iraqi forces removed the Kurdish flag from the governorate building.

Security sources and residents, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government forces arrived at the site, and took position in the vicinity alongside the local city police.

Iraqis gather as Iraqi forces arrive in the first neighborhood on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk on October 16, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

They added that CTS members drove to downtown Kirkuk after they had captured the airport earlier in the day from Kurdish forces.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces threaten Baghdad after Kirkuk operation

Meanwhile, Kurdish Peshmerga forces said Baghdad would pay a “heavy price” for launching a major offensive over several fronts aimed at retaking the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk amid spiraling tensions between the central government and the KRG authorities in the wake of last month’s Kurdish independence referendum.

The Kurdish Peshmerga, in a statement released on Monday, also accused some officials within the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of “treason” for assisting Baghdad with the advance and handing over sensitive sites to Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) – better known by their Arabic name as Hashd al-Sha’abi.

The statement further noted that the morale of Peshmerga forces would not decline in the face of “bad intentions of some officials and the Iraqi government’s plans.”

Members of a Kurdish Peshmerga battalion queue up outside a polling station in Erbil as they wait to cast their vote in the Kurdish independence referendum on September 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

It added that Baghdad shouldered the “responsibility for the war against the people of Kurdistan,” asserting that Abadi’s government must pay the price.

The referendum on secession of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region was held on September 25 despite strong opposition from the central government in Baghdad, the international community, and Iraq’s neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran.

Following the vote, Baghdad imposed a ban on direct international flights to the Kurdish region and called for a halt to its independent crude oil sales.

Iraqi people gather on the road as they welcome security forces members, who continue to advance in military vehicles in Kirkuk, Iraq, October 16, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

On October 12, an Iraqi government spokesman said Baghdad had set a series of conditions that the KRG needed to meet before any talks on the resolution of the referendum crisis could start.

’10 Kurdish fighters killed in clashes with govt. forces’

Additionally, a Kurdish official said at least 10 Kurdish fighters were killed and 27 wounded during fighting overnight with Hashd al-Sha’abi forces in Kirkuk province.

Sherzad Hassan, deputy director of health in the Chamchamal region, said the toll covered only those shifted to hospitals.

Members of Iraqi security forces enter in military vehicles in Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Kurdish officials, requesting anonymity, said dozens more Peshmerga fighters were missing after Iraqi military forces launched operations against the Kurdish forces.

‘Iraqi-Kurdish clash in Kirkuk due to misunderstanding’

Separately, the US-led coalition purportedly fighting Daesh Takfiri terrorist group has described the recent exchange of gunfire between Iraqi forces and Peshmerga fighters in Kirkuk as a result of a “misunderstanding,” urging both sides to avoid escalation.

Iraqi boys walk over the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

“Coalition forces and advisors are not supporting government of Iraq or Kurdistan Regional Government activities near Kirkuk; but are aware of reports of a limited exchange of fire during predawn hours of darkness,” it said in a statement on its website.

“We believe the engagement this morning was a misunderstanding and not deliberate as two elements attempted to link up under limited visibility conditions,” it added.