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Kirkuk: 3 Protesters killed, 16 Injured in Clashes in Iraq

The multi-ethnic Iraqi city of Kirkuk, historically disputed between the federal government in Baghdad and authorities in the autonomous Kurdistan region of the north, witnessed a resurgence of deadly unrest. Rival protests between Kurdish residents on one side and Turkmen and Arabs on the other prompted a curfew being imposed by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.

Kirkuk: 3 Protesters killed, 16 Injured in Clashes in Iraq

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Kirkuk, a city wealthy in oil assets, has long been a focal point of tension in Iraq. Its multi-ethnic composition, with Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen among the prominent groups, has made it a microcosm of Iraq’s broader ethnic and sectarian divisions.

To understand the recent conflicts, it is essential to dig into Kirkuk’s fierce history. The city was under Kurdish control following the removal of ISIS in 2014 yet was recovered by the Iraqi armed force in 2017 after a contentious referendum on Kurdish independence. This power struggle over Kirkuk’s control laid the groundwork for the ongoing tensions.

The core of the new distress revolves around a building that was once the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Since 2017, the Iraqi army had been using it as a base.

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The central government’s decision to return the building to the KDP was intended as a goodwill gesture but sparked outrage among Arab and Turkmen residents who protested by setting up a camp outside the building’s gate.

Violence erupted when a group of Kurdish protesters approached the camp, triggered by local media reports that Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani had ordered the site to be handed over to the KDP. The clashes resulted in casualties and prompted the imposition of a curfew.

At least four Kurds were killed, and 15 others were wounded during the clashes, according to local authorities. The identities of those responsible for the fatalities remain unclear, as investigations are ongoing.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani called for a commission of investigation into the incident and pledged that those responsible would be held accountable. He also imposed a curfew in Kirkuk and initiated extensive security operations to quell the unrest.

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Prominent Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani accused “rioters” of blocking a major highway that connects Kirkuk to Erbil, the Kurdish capital, through their sit-in. He criticized security forces for not preventing the chaos and violence against Kurdish demonstrators.

The distress in Kirkuk happens in the midst of progressing talks among Baghdad and the Kurdish provincial government over different disrupted issues, including the federal budget, oil exports, and the disarmament of anti-Iran armed groups in the north. The situation in Kirkuk adds another layer of complexity to Iraq’s political challenges.

The instability in Kirkuk is not only a domestic concern but also has international implications. The city’s oil wealth and its proximity to the autonomous Kurdish region make it a critical element in the broader geopolitics of the Middle East.

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