Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—Kurdish Peshmerga forces remained in complete control of Kirkuk on Friday, with local media reporting that Kurdish forces are moving beyond the city to contain Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs spokesman Halgurd Hikmet confirmed that Peshmerga forces have seized a number of Iraqi military bases in the oil-rich province. Peshmerga forces have also been deployed on the outskirts of the city of Kirkuk to fill the security vacuum left by fleeing Iraqi soldiers.
The Kurdistan Region Government (KRG) views Kirkuk as a historic part of Kurdistan, and the province has long been a source of contention between Erbil and Baghdad.
Peshmerga Ministry Secretary-General Lt. Gen. Jabbar Yawar issued a statement on Thursday evening in which he confirmed that Kurdish forces have moved beyond the city of Kirkuk. “Peshmerga are now present in Gwer and the areas surrounding the city of Kirkuk, including Tuz Khurmato and areas close to Hawija and Dibs.”
ISIS seized control of the cities of Jalula and Sadiyah, in the province of Diyala, overnight amid fears that the militant organization is seeking to march on the capital, Baghdad. But local media on Friday also reported that Peshmerga forces were present in Jalula, to the south of Kirkuk.
Iraq’s Alsumaria TV reported on Friday that a Peshmerga unit had been deployed to Jalula to help Iraqi security forces deal with the ISIS presence, with other Iraqi media also reporting that Peshmerga forces had clashed with ISIS fighters in the city.
In addition to providing military assistance to Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has also sought to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqis caught up in the crisis.
Yawar said the Kurdistan Region remains open to Iraqis fleeing the violence, adding that “the Peshmerga will help them in every way they can. In the meantime, security measures taken by Peshmerga forces will not cause conflict or disruption for citizens living in these areas.
“The KRG is currently a safe haven for approximately 250,000 Syrian refugees, as well as hundreds of thousands of internally-displaced people fleeing the violence in Mosul and elsewhere. We are doing our best to cope with this humanitarian emergency.”
On Thursday, Erbil announced the establishment of the Khazir refugee camp near the Kurdish capital to meet the needs of Iraqi civilians fleeing Nineveh province.
The refugee camp can accommodate up to a thousand families, a Kurdish official said, adding that the camp’s capacity is expected to grow as the refugee influx rises.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Zarkar Mustafa a senior administrative official in the city of Khabat, 24 miles (40 kilometers) west of Erbil, said: “After large numbers of refugees poured into the region of Kurdistan, the KRG decided to set up camps for refugees from Mosul who cannot afford to live in Erbil.
“We set up this camp in cooperation with UN organizations and other international organizations. If the situation in Mosul continues to worsen, we will make other arrangements in this regard.”
The KRG has installed a makeshift hospital near the refugee camp, with mobile medical teams to provide refugees with medical aid.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Saadiya Habib, who sought refuge in Kirkuk along with her ten-member family. She said: “We left Mosul yesterday. ISIS fighters entered our house and told us to leave immediately.”