Thousands of carloads of Kurdish families have taken to the highway north of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, fleeing deeper into Iraqi Kurdistan in response to a surprise Iraqi military offensive, which seized the city with little fighting.
Though there were some reports of skirmishes between the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shi’ite militias, the Iraqi military has been able to roll into Kirkuk with little to no resistance. Kurdish officials had said thousands of heavily-armed Peshmerga were in place to defend the city “at all costs.”
Iraqi special forces in armored vehicles quickly seized all the provincial government buildings, and the Peshmerga are falling back. Kurdish families who were living in Kirkuk fear what’s going to happen next, now that the Shi’ite militias are in town.
We saw time and again when Iraqi forces seized Sunni Arab cities from ISIS that the militias would carry out revenge killings against civilians suspected of being in league with ISIS. Given how demonized Kurdish secessionist ambitions have been in Iraq in recent weeks, many Kurds fear similar killings will happen in Kirkuk, which is why many are taking no chances, and fleeing deeper into Kurdistan.