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Federal Iraqi security forces gather outside Alton Kupri, on the outskirts of Irbil, Iraq, Oct. 19, 2017 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

From a Referendum’s Hope to Kirkuk’s Fall, Internal Rivalries Crippled Iraqi Kurds

Friday, Oct. 20, 2017

Events in Iraq this week will go down as one of the greatest debacles in the living memory of many Iraqi Kurds. On Monday, the confrontation between the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government of President Masoud Barzani and Iraq’s central government escalated dramatically when Baghdad launched a major military offensive to retake the multiethnic, oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Kurdish forces had seized control of the city in 2014 in the vacuum created by the advance of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and the retreat of Iraqi troops. Less than 15 hours after the start of the Kirkuk offensive, a coalition of regular Iraqi armed forces and Shiite militias backed by Iran were reported to be in full control of most of the city, its airport, main military bases and several large oil fields.

The ease with which Baghdad was able to reconquer Kirkuk, with hardly any resistance put up by Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, came as a profound surprise to international observers. Yet the Iraqi Kurdish withdrawal did not stop there. By Tuesday afternoon, northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region had lost vast territories, some of which the KRG had controlled since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. This week is certain to be remembered as a watershed moment when intra-Iraqi power dynamics shifted decisively from Irbil to Baghdad. ...

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