That Iraqi security forces have managed to advance uncontested in the Kirkuk Province today does not indicate that the Kurdish Peshmerga don’t intend to put up a fight. Quite the contrary, Kurdish officials say the Peshmerga are falling back to a defensive line around the city of Kirkuk itself.
Historically a city with a substantial Kurdish population, oil-rich Kirkuk saw much of its Kurdish population expelled by the Saddam Hussein-era government, trying to bring loyal Sunni Arabs in to ensure control of the city. Kurdish Peshmerga seized the city in 2014, during the ISIS War, and have been moving a lot of Kurds back in. Kurdish leaders have ruled out handing over Kirkuk again.
Now, with Iraq’s central government advancing, parliament authorizing the use of ground troops to retake Kirkuk, thousands of Peshmerga are taking up positions, with Kurdish officials saying the orders are to defend the city at any cost.
This could very rapidly escalate into the first battle of a new Iraqi Civil War, with Iraq already pondering military action against the Kurds for a pro-secession vote last month. Iraq isn’t keen on letting the Kurds secede at all, and questions over what cities they might take with them, when they come to important cities like Kirkuk, could easily provoke a war.