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Iraqi PM urges restraint after deadly clashes in Kirkuk

Iraq's Kurdish and Arab residents hold rival demonstrations in the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk in the northern province of Kirkuk on September 2, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has called on all conflicting parties in the northern province of Kirkuk to exercise restraint following the recent deadly clashes in the oil-rich governorate.

Sudani made the call after three protesters were shot dead and 14 others sustained injuries during fierce clashes between ethnic groups in the city of Kirkuk, which has historically been disputed between the federal government in Baghdad and authorities in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north.

In a phone conversation on Saturday, Sudani and the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Masoud Barzani, underlined the need for coordinated efforts to prevent any disruptions to the security and stability of Kirkuk.

The two sides also stressed the importance of law enforcement by security forces to ensure the continuity of civil peace and well-being of the residents of the northern Iraqi province.

The premier also had a separate phone call with the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, Nechirvan Barzani, and discussed the latest situation in Kirkuk.

Sudani emphasized the importance of not allowing any irresponsible elements to disrupt the harmonious and fraternal social fabric of the northern governorate, especially after its successful efforts in the defeat of the Daesh terrorist group in 2017.

“The diverse great people of Kirkuk exemplify peaceful coexistence and brotherhood in their city,” Sudani said, calling on all parties to “play their part in preventing strife and preserving security, stability and order in Kirkuk Governorate.”

The Iraqi prime minister also ordered the formation of an investigative committee regarding Saturday’s events in Kirkuk.

Sudani stressed that the “negligent people who are found guilty of these events will be held accountable and brought to justice so that they receive their just punishment.”

The violence on Saturday stemmed from the occupation of a building in Kirkuk that served as the headquarters for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the past but the Iraqi army has used as a base for counter-terrorism activities in the volatile region over the past years.

Iraq’s central government reportedly plans to hand over the building to the KDP but Arab and Turkmen opponents set up a camp outside the building to protest the plan last week due to their past sufferings under Kurdish rule.

The casualties took place when a group of Kurdish protesters approached the camp, with local media reports saying the rival groups engaged in a violent skirmish that involved exchange of gunfire in addition to throwing stones and metal bars.

The police deployed to the area fired warning shots to force the demonstrators to disperse.

The Iraqi government imposed a strict curfew in the northern city afterward and ordered “extensive security operations in the areas affected by the riots.”

The restive oil-rich Iraqi province of Kirkuk has been the focus of some of the country’s worst post-Daesh violence amid US attempts to prolong its military presence under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

Daesh began a campaign of terror in Iraq in 2014, overrunning vast swathes in lightning attacks. Iraq declared victory over the group in December 2017, after a three-year counterterrorism endeavor, which also had the support of Iran. The terror outfit’s remnants, though, keep staging sporadic attacks across Iraq, in an attempt to regroup.

There are various reports that the US occupation forces have on multiple occasions been transporting Daesh members to safe havens in Iraq and providing logistics for the terror outfit.

Some 2,500 US troops still remain inside the Arab country in what Washington describes as an “advisory” mission. US President Joe Biden and Iraq’s then-Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi declared in July 2021 that the US mission in Iraq would transition from combat to an “advisory” role by the end of that year.

After the 2020 assassination of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Units, along with the region’s legendary anti-terror commander, Iran’s Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, Iraqi lawmakers ratified a bill that required the government to end the presence of all foreign military forces led by the US.

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