Iraqi Kurds seized control of the northern oil city of Kirkuk on Thursday as Sunni insurgents threatened to advance on Baghdad — two developments that further indicate that the central government has now lost large swaths of a country spiraling deeper into chaos and internecine violence.
Kurds have long dreamed of taking Kirkuk, a city with huge oil reserves just outside their autonomous region, which they regard as their historical capital. The swift move by their highly organized security forces demonstrates how this week’s sudden advance by the armed group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has redrawn Iraq’s map.
The ongoing instability prompted talk of international action Thursday, with Iran raising the specter of involvement in its neighbor’s affairs and reports that authorities in Baghdad had earlier asked the U.S. to consider airstrikes to support their push against ISIL.
An Obama administration official said the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last month secretly asked Washington to considering carrying out strikes against ISIL positions, but the White House rebuffed the request, The New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged to combat the “violence and terrorism” brought by ISIL.
On the ground in Iraq, government forces appeared to be in retreat Thursday.
Peshmerga fighters, the security forces of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish north, swept into Kirkuk after the army abandoned its posts there, a spokesman said.
“The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of peshmerga,” said Jabbar Yawar, a Kurdish military spokesman, according to Reuters.
The offensive by the Sunni Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIL potentially leaves the long desert frontier between Iraq and Syria effectively in the group’s hands, advancing its stated goal of erasing the border altogether and creating a single state ruled according to strict Sharia law.
At the same time, the Kurdish capture of Kirkuk instantly overturns the fragile balance of power between Iraq’s feuding religious and ethnic groups.
Since Tuesday, black-clad ISIL fighters have seized Iraq’s second biggest city, Mosul, and Tikrit, hometown of Saddam Hussein, as well as other towns and cities north of Baghdad… see more
source: American Aljazeera