THE WASHINGTON TIMES – GUY TAYLOR
Fears of a new civil war in Iraq — pitting the autonomous Kurdish region against the Iraqi central government — reached new heights Friday, with both sides engaging in tense troop movements around the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Kurdish authorities said they were sending thousands of their Peshmerga forces toward the city, while the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armored Division claimed its own forces were sweeping into positions that the Kurds were abandoning.
The conflicting assertions came a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Baghdad had no plan to attack Kurdish forces around Kirkuk, a city about 165 miles north of Baghdad that has been a focal point of tensions since the Kurds held a Sept. 25 referendum on independence.
Despite Mr. al-Abadi’s statements, Iraq’s central government has made moves to isolate the Kurdish region with a series of measures in recent weeks, including banning international flights from landing there and demanding a halt to all crude oil sales by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
KRG Vice President Kosrat Rassel said Friday that Kurdish forces were responding by beefing up their forces “in and around” Kirkuk. “Tens of thousands of Kurdish Peshmerga and security forces are already stationed [there],” Mr. Rasul said on Kurdish TV, according to Reuters. “At least 6,000 additional Peshmerga were deployed since Thursday night to face the Iraqi forces’ threat.”