The Latest: Iraqi PM calls for dialogue after Kirkuk

KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) — The Latest on developments in Iraq, day after Iraqi forces took back the disputed city of Kirkuk, forcing Kurdish fighters to leave (all times local):

10:30 p.m.

Iraq’s prime minister says last month’s Kurdish independence referendum is “a thing of the past,” and is calling for dialogue with the Kurds after federal forces retook the northern city of Kirkuk.

Haider al-Abadi spoke to reporters Tuesday, a day after federal forces retook Kirkuk with little fighting. Kurdish forces have since withdrawn from other disputed areas in northern and eastern Iraq.

Iraq’s central government rejected the non-binding independence vote held last month, calling it unconstitutional. In the wake of the referendum, in which more than 90 percent voted for independence, al-Abadi demanded that the results be annulled and that Kurdish forces pull out of disputed territories outside the Kurdish autonomous region.

On Tuesday, al-Abadi said he wanted a “national partnership, based on the constitution.” Iraq’s constitution designates the country’s three northernmost provinces as an autonomous Kurdish zone. The prime minister said he would not start a civil war.


7:45 p.m.

Iraqi President Fuad Masum says troops had no choice but to take over the administration of the disputed oil city of Kirkuk after Kurdish authorities held a referendum for independence last month.

Masum, himself a Kurd, says the referendum “provoked dangerous disputes” between Baghdad and Irbil, the capital of the country’s Kurdish region, forcing federal forces to take Kirkuk. Masum addressed Iraqis in a televised speech Tuesday.

Kurdish forces moved into the city in 2014 to secure it against advancing Islamic State forces after national defenses collapsed. They withdrew Monday ahead of advancing federal forces and militias, in a blow to Kurdish aspirations for statehood.

Since then, Kurdish forces have been withdrawing from disputed territories across northern and eastern Iraq, including areas they acquired in the tumult of the war on the Islamic State group.


7:15 p.m.

The leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region says the decision to withdraw from the disputed city of Kirkuk in the face of an advance by federal forces was taken by his political opponents.

Masoud Barzani on Tuesday blamed the withdrawal from Kirkuk a day earlier on “certain individuals in certain political parties.” He did not acknowledge the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from parts of northern and eastern Iraq on Tuesday.

The office of the Kurdish forces accused the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, archrivals of Barzani, of “treason” for colluding with central government to hand over the city.

The Kurdish military leadership says its forces will only withdraw to points held before Oct. 17, 2016, when Iraqi and Kurdish forces commenced operations to recapture the country’s second largest city, Mosul, from the Islamic State group.

But Kurdish forces have already withdrawn from Kirkuk, where they deployed in 2014, and Sinjar in northeastern Iraq, which they captured from IS in 2015.


6 p.m.

A hospital in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Suleimaniyah says it received the bodies of 25 Kurdish fighters killed in clashes a day earlier over the disputed city of Kirkuk.

Dr. Omeid Hama Ali, the director of Suleimaniyah Hospital’s emergency department, said the hospital treated 44 other wounded fighters. He spoke to the Associated Press by phone Tuesday.

Iraqi troops forced their way into Kirkuk on Monday and seized several major oil and gas installations nearby. Kurdish forces withdrew amid scattered clashes.

It was not clear where the Kurdish fighters were killed, or if the Iraqi forces sustained any losses.

Since then, Kurdish forces have been withdrawing from disputed territories across northern and eastern Iraq, including areas they acquired in the tumult of the war on the Islamic State group.


3:30 p.m.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry says Kurdish forces have also withdrawn from other disputed territories in eastern Iraq, namely from three towns near the Iranian border.

The Ministry’s Emergency Response Unit says the Kurdish forces pulled out of the towns of Jaloula, Khanaqin, and Mandali, near the Iranian border. The announcement was posted on the ministry’s website on Tuesday.

The Kurdish forces pulled out of the disputed oil city of Kirkuk on Monday as Iraqi troops took over. Baghdad has demanded Kurdish authorities return all the country’s ‘disputed territories’ — mostly areas Kurdish forces took since the 2014 in the war against the Islamic State group.

The Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, pulled out of the minority Yazidi town of Sinjar, in northwest Iraq, on Tuesday.


11:30 a.m.

Thousands of civilians are streaming back to Kirkuk, a day after fleeing as Iraqi troops pushed Kurdish forces out of the disputed oil-rich city.

The civilians were heading back on Tuesday, driving along a main highway to the city’s east. The Kurdish peshmerga forces had built an earthen berm along the highway, reinforced by armored vehicles, but were allowing civilians to return to the city.

Many returnees were seen with their children and belongings packed tight in their cars.

The Iraqi forces’ retaking of Kirkuk came only two weeks after they had fought together with the Kurdish fighters to neutralize the Islamic State group in Iraq, their common enemy.

As Kirkuk’s Arab and Turkmen residents on Monday evening celebrated the change of power, thousands of Kurdish residents, fearful of federal and Shiite militia rule, packed the roads north to Irbil, the capital of the northern autonomous Kurdish region.


10:50 a.m.

Iraq’s Kurdish fighters have lost more territory in Iraq, a day after Iraqi forces pushed them out of the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

In the town of Sinjar, commander of the local Yazidi militia, Masloum Shingali, says the Kurdish forces left before dawn on Tuesday, allowing Shiite-led militiamen who are fighting with Iraqi forces to move into the town.

Shingali says there was no fighting and that the Kurdish forces “left immediately, they didn’t want to fight.”

Town Mayor Mahma Khalil says the Popular Mobilization Forces, a predominantly Shiite militia coalition, is securing Sinjar.

On Monday, Iraqi troops pushed their Kurdish allies in the battle against the Islamic State group out of Kirkuk, seizing oil fields and other facilities amid soaring tensions over last month’s Kurdish vote for independence.


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