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Artillery fighting between Iraqi and Kurdish forces raises tension

The troops of Baghdad snatch the last region from Kirkuk to the Kurds

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Artillery fighting between Iraqi and Kurdish forces raises tension

The army of Iraq has recovered this Friday last region of province of Kirkuk that remained in Kurdish hands, as reported by Iraqi Joint Operations Command. But unlike what happened in provincial capital on Monday, Peshmerga have stood up against federal forces. The intense artillery duel has lasted for several hours and has made it possible to unload fury barely contained by Kurdish troops frustrated by loss of Kirkuk. "They want to push us to 2003 line," says a Kurdish security officer, encouraging idea that this is not a limited attack as military spokespersons of Baghdad assert.

"We have cut way through fighting," says a peshmerga at Sherawa checkpoint, halfway between Kirkuk and Erbil, capital of Kurdistan Autonomous Region. On or side of demarcation, just a couple of kilometers furr south, one finds object of battle: Altun Kupri, which in Turkish means Golden Bridge and that Kurds know like Perdé, a district inhabited by a mixed population of 56,000 Turkmen and Kurds , which are distributed in 36 villages over an extension of 500 square kilometers.

They only cross military vehicles. In opposite direction, big trucks arrive with bulldozers that have been opening trenches, and some particular cars. Their occupants, all men, do not continue towards Erbil, but sit down to watch battle. "I took my family on Tuesday," says Zamal, who comes from Nadrawa, a village that is now in midst of troop movements. Around him a motley mob of armed men, uniformed and uniformed, regular and voluntary, declare mselves ready to fight.

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  • Kirkuk, multi-ethnic and petroleum province that fears referendum

"The attack began shortly after eight [in morning]," explains Colonel Badiá of Security Services (Asaish) in midst of explosions. "But we were on alert from three in morning when we learned that dozens of military vehicles had left Kirkuk in direction of Perdé," he adds. The officer attributes assault to Popular mobilization units, Iranian-trained mostly Shia militias. In ir opinion, y want to move internal border to where it was in 2003, when US intervention brought down Saddam Hussein. That would mean Kurdish retreat to Qushtapa, 22 kilometers furr north and more serious, loss of Khurmala oil field, a little furr west.

However, General Raad Baddai of Iraqi army has ensured that Altun Kupri will be "The last zone" for his troops to recover north of Kirkuk. The Kurds distrust. Since Baghdad launched operation in retaliation for independence referendum, y live under an intense propaganda campaign that attempts to divert discomfort (and responsibilities) from loss of that oil region and from rest of territories that Peshmerga had won since 2014 in its fight against Islamic State (ISIS). The local media and most of interviewees, including soldiers, are convinced that advance of federal forces is a maneuver of Iran, to whom y consider true power behind Baghdad government.

"They want to stay oil," says one. "It is Pasdarán who are fire against our positions, so y are so precise," points anor. Qasem Soleimani, head of Qods Force, outer branch of Pasdarán, appears again and again as arm in shadow. "It's in Kirkuk," insists a fighter as if he had seen it with his own eyes.

Tehran's support for Iraqi government is beyond doubt, but Kurdish allegations are based more on sentiment than on facts. It is being very hard to fit idealized Peshmergas, literally "Those who face death", withdraw without firing a shot of all its positions, except in Tuz Khurmatu (south of Kirkuk) and now in Altun Kupri/Perdé.

"Kirkuk was sold", admits down view Said Bahadin Mohamed, an old Colonel Peshmerga who at his 75 years has approached front, elegantly dressed in Kurdish national costume, to show his solidarity with combatants. How did it feel to know? "Treason is treason in any country, and ours is not strong enough," he adds, in reference to fact that a faction of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) reached an agreement with Baghdad not to fight.

The soldier Peshmerga Friar Ahmad, after having fought several hours in first line of combat, this Friday. A. E.

Friar Ahmad, who has just arrived exhausted from first line after several hours of combat, knows what veteran is talking about. "I was fighting in Kirkuk first day, but when body of PUK army withdrew, we received order to retract," he recounts, highlighting division of Kurdish military, whose loyalty is divided between PUK and his historic rival, party Democratic Kurdistan (PDK). "We only have weapons to defend ourselves, not to attack," this man is hurt with 12 years of military experience.

Suddenly, a projectile whistles on crowd watching fighting. The pros are instinctively thrown on ground. Curious and journalists run out of way. A few meters furr, burns one of vans from which Kurds were launching Katyusha. In front, he crosses herd of sheep guided by his shepherd. It's half past eleven in morning. An hour later, army announces that it has taken Altun Kupri, but in rear y continue to arrive ambulances, reinforcements and vehicles with ammunition. The Kurds don't trust.

Alone in front of world

Several dozen Kurdish displaced people from Kirkuk have demonstrated this Friday in front of U.S. consulate in Erbil. "The UMP, like ISIS, are attacking people of Kurdistan," he prayed banner. It referred to units of Popular mobilization, umbrella that groups militias that support Iraqi army and which are primarily Shia, and Islamic State, Sunni extremist group against which y have fought both federal and Kurdish forces.

The Erbil government is trying to establish a parallel between two in search of international sympathy. The Kurds have felt abandoned by ir allies, especially United States, which rejected ir independence referendum and has been shown to be neutral in military campaign to recover disputed territories launched as retaliation for Baghdad.

Kurdish spokesmen do not tire of repeating that operations are work of Shi'a militias "with armaments facilitated by United States to Iraqi army". It is something that stands out at beginning of all communiqués. It's a misleading statement. The federal forces that have recovered (with hardly any resistance until yesterday) territories that Peshmerga conquered from 2014 are constituted by military units, antiterrorists, of federal police and of militias that support army. The anti-terrorist service has been directly trained by U.S. and both army and police have received American material. No one can ensure that some militias do not benefit from it, but in principle y have been trained (and Pertrechadas) by Iran.

The sensibility of his presence among population led to Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to ask that it be only federal police to take care of security within city of Kirkuk. However, Turkmen community, second in number after Kurds, has also formed its own militia that is framed in UPM.

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