Iraqi government forces and members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) seized control on Monday of the city of Kirkuk and pulled down the Kurdish flag from the province headquarters, amid reports of the displacement of Kurdish residents from the city.
It was surprising that Kirkuk fell without resistance, which pushed officials in the autonomous Kurdistan Region to speak about “treason” committed by the leadership of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) for their collaboration with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Shakhuan Abdullah, a member of the Iraqi Parliament on the Committee for Security and Defense, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the PUK withdrawal from Kirkuk came following a meeting held in the city between Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds force and Bafel Talabani, son of late former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Kurdish leaders spoke on Monday about a direct role played by Suleimani in pushing the Peshmerga to pull out of Kirkuk without resistance.
Residents in Kirkuk also spoke about a plan by leaders of the PUK with the support of Iraqi President Fouad Massoum and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.
The residents said that the attack on Kirkuk was the implementation of a warning sent from Suleimani in a message carried by Massoum to the Kurdish leaderships in the past few days.
Meanwhile, Kurdish sources were surprised by the US position regarding the latest developments in the area.
The sources explained Washington’s position as emanating from their desire to strengthen the chances of Abadi in the upcoming Iraqi elections and to thwart the possible return of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
On Monday, US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that Washington would not take sides in the Kirkuk dispute, but “we don’t like the fact that they’re clashing.”
For his part, Abadi “stressed the importance of avoiding the use of force and of seeking dialogue in order to preserve Iraq’s unity and long-term stability, while upholding the provisions of the Iraqi constitution.”
Meanwhile, informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Iraqi forces’ next step might see an advance towards the Mosul dam, located north of Kirkuk city.