Kurdish forces have abandoned large areas of northern and eastern Iraq they had controlled since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, in the wake of Iraqi government forces taking control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
“The vastly outnumbered Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, appeared to have bowed to demands from the central government that they hand over areas outside the Kurds' autonomous region, including territory seized from the Islamic State group in recent years,” ABC News says.
The towns abandoned by Kurdish forces loyal to the de facto Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, include Bashiqa, Khanaqin and Sinjar.
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“The withdrawals on Tuesday shattered ambitions to use a referendum on independence held on 25 September to consolidate a Kurdish hold on towns seized in the three-year war against Islamic State,” The Guardian says.
Barzani has faced criticism from the Kurdish people over the referendum, which appears to have been the driving force behind the latest push by the Iraqi government to retake the disputed territories.
Iraqi forces also announced yesterday that they had retaken the oil fields of Bai Hassan and Avana near Kirkuk, “potentially depriving the Kurdish region of its main source of revenue”, the Washington Post says. Baghdad has previously accused the Kurds of illegally exporting oil.
The disputed oil fields were controversially included in the independence referendum, despite lying outside of the established Kurdistan region.
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