Iraqi soldiers killed in clashes with Kurds

:: Armed clashes broke out near Irbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdish region, on Tuesday. The fighting was between Kurdish forces and Iraqi security forces who were advancing to regain control of the last disputed areas adjacent to the Kurdish region.

At least three federal soldiers were killed and two others were injured, regional and federal military commanders told Arab News. In response to a controversial referendum held by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) on independence, Iraqi federal security forces, backed by Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops, last week launched a military campaign to drive the Kurdish forces out of the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, its lucrative oil fields and the disputed areas adjacent to the 2003 regional borders.

Tuesday’s clashes took place in Al-Mahmoudiya, a small town near the Iraq-Syria border, when Kurdish troops blocked the way of Iraqi Urgent Response Division units moving from Zummar, northwestern Mosul, toward Habur to gain control of the border crossing and redeploy troops in the area.

“Peshmerga (the Kurdish troops) fear that we will get into Irbil so the clashes erupted here and there,” Falih Al-Khaza’ali, a military commander involved in the operation, told Arab News.

“Our goal is to impose federal authority on the disputed areas within the administrative borders of Nineveh province and to gain control of the border crossing, and this will be irreversible.”

The advance of federal troops to control the western areas of Nineveh and areas adjacent to the Syrian-Iraqi border is a part of preparatory steps to secure the area and establish a new crossing called “Avacoy.” This will be next to the Habur border crossing which lies 7 km inside the Kurdish region.

Khaza’ali and several other military federal commanders told Arab News that Baghdad had given a 24-hour time deadline to “peacefully” withdraw from the area and hand over the nearby Fishkhabour crossing.

Other clashes erupted in Makhmour, a town 65 km west of Irbil, when a Kurdish force attacked a checkpoint of federal police deployed in the area, wounded two policemen and took a further 13 as prisoners, local and federal military sources told Arab News.

Several video clips circulated on Tuesday on social media and they show dozens of Kurdish fighters driving Iraqi soldiers, two of them wounded, away from the checkpoint. The Iraqi flag was lowered and the Kurdish flag raised in its place.

“There was no attack carried out by Peshmerga. Federal forces confronted Peshmerga in Makhmour,” Lt. Gen. Jabar Yaour, the general secretary of the Peshmerga Ministry, told Arab News.

“Based on our information, federal troops intend to redeploy at the 2003 border between federal forces and Kurdish forces without coordinating or coming to an agreement (with KRG),” Yaour said. “Peshmerga troops are deployed there, so the problems developed.”

Local sources in Mosul said clashes took place in the Christian-dominated area of Til Assquf, northern Mosul. No casualties were reported.

Iraqi federal forces have achieved most of the campaign’s goals, but three districts in Makhmour town, several districts in Nineveh Plane, and Mahmoudiya, Sahaila, Qoush and Sheikhan towns on the Iraq-Syria border are still under the control of Kurdish forces.

“Baghdad mobilized its troops in order to take these areas, so the clashes happened,” Yaour said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in his weekly press conference on Tuesday said the resistance to Iraqi forces is aimed at protecting corruption and oil smuggling.

Kurd Parliament elections

Parliament in the Kurdish region decided on Tuesday to hold legislative elections in eight months after they were delayed amid tensions over disputed territory with the central government in Baghdad, AFP reported.

Simultaneous legislative and presidential elections in the Kurdish region had been due to take place on Nov. 1 but were delayed. There was no immediate word on a date for a new presidential election.

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