At least 15 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in violent clashes between Kurdish and Turkmen militias in the disputed city of Kirkuk, northern Iraq. The fighting, which broke out on Monday, was triggered by a dispute over the control of a checkpoint near the city’s airport.
The checkpoint was manned by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who have been in charge of security in Kirkuk since 2014, when they took over the city from the Iraqi army after the rise of the ISIS group. However, the Turkmen Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a paramilitary group allied with the Iraqi government, claimed that they had an agreement with the Peshmerga to share the checkpoint.
The situation escalated when the Turkmen PMU tried to enter the checkpoint and were met with resistance from the Peshmerga. Both sides exchanged fire and used heavy weapons, such as rockets and mortars, causing casualties and damage to nearby buildings. The clashes also spread to other parts of the city, where civilians were caught in the crossfire.
The Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have both condemned the clashes and called for an immediate ceasefire and dialogue. The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has also expressed its concern and urged both sides to respect the rule of law and human rights. The UNAMI said that it was ready to facilitate dialogue and mediation between the parties.
Kirkuk is a multi-ethnic city that is home to Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, and other minorities. It is also rich in oil and gas resources, making it a strategic and economic prize for both Baghdad and Erbil. The city’s status has been disputed for decades, as both sides claim historical and constitutional rights over it.
The tensions between the Peshmerga and the PMU have increased since 2017, when the KRG held a controversial referendum on independence from Iraq. The referendum was rejected by Baghdad and the international community, and led to a military confrontation between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga in Kirkuk and other disputed areas. The Peshmerga withdrew from most of these areas, but maintained their presence in Kirkuk city.
The clashes in Kirkuk have raised fears of a new cycle of violence and instability in Iraq, which is still recovering from years of war and conflict. The clashes have also exposed the fragility of the political and security agreements between Baghdad and Erbil, which have been strained by disputes over oil revenues, budget allocations, and territorial claims.