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Iraqi forces snatch the last region from Kirkuk to the Kurds

The Peshmerga, humiliated by the advance of Baghdad, respond with an intense artillery duel

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Iraqi forces snatch the last region from Kirkuk to the Kurds

The army of Iraq has recovered this Friday last region of province of Kirkuk that remained in Kurdish hands, as reported by command of joint operations. 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, Perdé for Kurds, and whose name in Turkish (which means Golden Bridge) gives a hint of ethnic mixture of zone.

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, who declare mselves ready to fight.

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"The attack started shortly after eight," 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. "This in Kirkuk," insists a combatant 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.

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.

Espinosa Angels from Kurdistan.

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