The United States
is not taking sides in an Iraqi-Kurdish dispute, claims President Donald Trump, as Iraqi forces have taken control of the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk.
On Monday, Iraqi forces recaptured military bases, an oil field and other infrastructure held by the Kurdish troops, removed Kurdish flags from top of the government buildings and replaced them with the Iraqi flag.
The Iraqi troops were responding to a recent highly controversial Kurdish referendum on independence with a bold lightning strike that transforms the balance of power in the country.
And the government in Baghdad warned the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) not to take any measure that would cause a crude oil flow disruption from Kirkuk oil fields as Kurdish authorities reportedly shut down some 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) of production from two major fields in northern Iraq
The KRG had halted oil production from major fields, Bai Hassan and Avana, due to security concerns after a rise in tensions with the central government, prompting Baghdad to issue a stern warning to the Kurdish leaders to stop disrupting the oil flow from the oil fields.
Speaking at a news
conference at the White House on Monday, Trump expressed disappointment the two sides were fighting.
“We don’t like the fact that they’re clashing. We’re not taking sides,” he said.
“We’ve had for many years a very good relationship with the Kurds as you know and we’ve also been on the side of Iraq, even though we should have never been there in the first place. We should never have been there. But we’re not taking sides in that battle,” he added.
Earlier in the day the US Embassy in Baghdad said it supported the “peaceful reassertion” of the Iraqi government’s authority “in all disputed areas,” in line with the constitution.
A senior Trump administration official in Washington said, “The president and the embassy in Baghdad are saying the same thing.”
“We support joint administration between the central government and the regional government,” added the official, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Kirkuk is not one of the three provinces that have made up the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan Region since 2003. However, Kurdish militants used a vacuum created when government troops were fighting against Daesh terrorists to overtake city of Kirkuk.
Tensions flared up between Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad after the KRG held the contentious plebiscite on independence. The referendum was held on September 25 despite strong opposition from the central government in Baghdad, the international community, and Iraq’s neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran.
Following the vote, Baghdad imposed a ban on direct international flights to the Kurdish region and called for a halt to its independent crude oil sales.