By Eric Lee | IRAQ
On October 16, Iraqi forces and Shiite militia moved into Kurdish territory, seizing Kirkuk and nearby oil fields as Kurdish peshmerga and thousands of civilians abandoned the city(1). This was a response to the referendum of three weeks earlier, in which the Kurdish population voted overwhelmingly to support independence and which the Iraqi government deemed unconstitutional(2).
While the United States initially objected to the Kurdish independence, citing the necessity of Iraqi unity in the war on the Islamic State, they have declined to support Iraqi actions. Two days before the invasion, Secretary of Defense James Mattis urged both sides to “tone everything down”(3). The United States arms and funds both the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga, and American officials are currently working to de-escalate the situation(4).
While the Iraqi push faced no serious resistance in the north, there were reports of gunshots to the south(5). However, the lack of violence has little to do with desires for peace. Kurdish peshmerga officials called the incursion a “flagrant declaration of war,”(6) and vowed that the Iraqis would face consequences. Rather, it is the result of feuding between the conservative Kurdistan Democratic Party and the socialist Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Each party has its own militia, and the PUK has reported multiple casualties(7). Both parties see themselves as defenders of territorial integrity, so it is quite likely that violence will escalate and the Middle East will see the opening of a bloody new dimension of its seemingly endless wars.