By the end of Monday, Iraqi government forces and allied Shiite militias had taken control of Kirkuk, a city of 1 million in northern Iraq, and oil fields around it from the Kurdish authorities who have controlled it since 2014, when Iraqi troops fled and Kurdish peshmerga fighters stepped in amid an assault by the Islamic State. After an early morning skirmish south of Kirkuk, the Iraqi troops faced little resistance under a deal secretly negotiated with Kurdish forces aligned with an opposition party to Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani. The peshmerga and Iraqi troops, both sides trained and armed by the U.S., had fought ISIS together as recently as two weeks ago.
The Kurdish governor of Kirkuk fled to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, on Monday along with thousands of Kurdish residents, while Arab and Turkmen residents celebrated the arrival of Iraqi troops. Kurdish troops also withdrew from Sinjar early Tuesday, leaving the town to Shiite militias. Iraq mounted its assault after Kurds voted for independence last month in a referendum called by Barzani and opposed by Baghdad, the U.S., Iran, and Turkey. Analysts now call that referendum a mistake that led to lost territory and oil revenue. "They may have made a miscalculation of historic proportions by proceeding with the referendum over the objections of just about everyone who counts," said Joost Hiltermann at the International Crisis Group.