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US military commanders are scrambling to stop a conflict escalating between two forces they arm and train, after the Iraqi army seized the contested, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, from Kurdish peshmerga. The Pentagon sought to play down the scale of clashes between the two sides, after forces loyal to the central government in Baghdad rapidly took over nearly all the city on Monday, and Kurdish forces abandoned their positions, retreating to nearby oilfields. Video footage showed streams of Kurdish refugees leaving Kirkuk in cars.
He added that US commanders in the region were active in trying to mediate between the two sides in the city. There was also concern in Washington over the role of Iran in the move into Kirkuk. The Kirkuk governor, Najmladin Karim, has gone into hiding according to a former state department official, David Philips, who spoke to Karim on Sunday night at the time of the offensive. Kirkuk was seized by the Kurds in the summer of , after Iraqi forces fled their positions following an Isis attack on nearby Mosul.
At the time, peshmerga units beat Isis militants in a race to control installations and oilfields. Ever since, Erbil has tried to strengthen its claim on the city, which comprises Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen and is the epicentre of regional oil production. Kurdish officials had set up a pipeline from Kirkuk to Turkey, through which they had been selling crude oil — amid bitter opposition from Baghdad.
The withdrawal of Kurdish forces underscores a deep rivalry between two political blocs in Iraqi Kurdistan, which came to a head in the past three days as Iraqi forces and allied Shia units stalked Kurdish forces from south of the city.
The veteran leader had instead insisted that the ballot represented a defining moment in Kurdish history, which he hoped would transcendhelp overcome longstanding disunity. Divisions, however, were on stark display, as the peshmerga units capitulated, shocking even members of the two feuding parties.