Kirkuk, Iraq has become a centerpiece in the Iraqi government’s rejection of the overwhelmingly successful Kurdish Independence Referendum.

Monday, Iraq took control of Kirkuk, which has been under Kurdish control since they took it from ISIS in 2014 as Iraqi forces fled.  It is surprising that the Kurds did not stand and fight for the hard-won Kirkuk, but it’s not yet clear this was the case as there have been reports of gunfire and “clashes” in the city.  The resistance by Kurdish forces appears to have been somewhat minimal.

The BBC reports:

The Iraqi military moved into Kirkuk three weeks after the Kurdistan Region held a controversial independence referendum.

They are aiming to retake areas under Kurdish control since Islamic State militants swept through the region.

Residents of Kurdish-controlled areas, including Kirkuk, overwhelmingly backed secession from Iraq in a 25 September vote.

While Kirkuk is outside Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdish voters in the city were allowed to take part.

. . . .  Mr Abadi said in a statement on Monday that the operation in Kirkuk was necessary to “protect the unity of the country, which was in danger of partition” because of the referendum.

“We call upon all citizens to co-operate with our heroic armed forces, which are committed to our strict directives to protect civilians in the first place, and to impose security and order, and to protect state installations and institutions,” he added.

On Monday, the Iraqi military said its units had taken control of the K1 military base, the Baba Gurgur oil and gas field, and a state-owned oil company’s offices.

The government in Baghdad said the Peshmerga had withdrawn “without fighting”. However, clashes were reported to the south, and the sound of gunfire was caught by a BBC cameraman as a team filmed near a checkpoint.

The Kurdish news outlet, Rudaw, has been reporting on the Iraqi taking of Kirkuk and the lowering of the Kurdistan flag.

In their coverage, “LIVE: Iraqi forces take Kirkuk, lower Kurdistan flag,” Rudaw reports:

Iraqi forces, which include the US-trained Counter Terrorism Service and the Iranian-backed mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, began an attack on Peshmerga-controlled areas south and west of Kirkuk on Sunday at midnight. Monday afternoon, Iraqi forces entered the city of Kirkuk and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi forces take down the Kurdistan flag in the disputed areas and hoist only the Iraqi banner.

Iraqi forces have taken control of the K-1 military base, Baba Gurgur oil field, the governor’s office, the airport, and key infrastructure and roads.

Thousands of civilians have fled the city, heading towards Erbil and Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region.

The attack by the Iraqi forces ordered by Abadi follows weeks of punitive measures taken by Baghdad against Kurdistan in response to the September 25 independence referendum that saw 92.7 percent of people voting to leave Iraq, despite Iraqi opposition.

Rudaw is also reporting that ISIS has become involved in the action near Kirkuk.

The Kurds in Kirkuk appear to have put up minimal resistance to Iraqi forces.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Iraqi forces took control of the local government building in Kirkuk on Monday, pushing out Kurdish fighters and effectively retaking the oil-rich city after skirmishes that raised fears of a wider conflict between two of the closest U.S. allies in the war against Islamic State.

Elite military units seeking to restore federal government authority over territory and resources seized by Kurdish forces during the push against Islamic State advanced toward Kirkuk overnight, and by evening they had taken control of the provincial government headquarters, according to witnesses and Kirkuk officials. The Iraqi flag was raised over the Kirkuk government building in an evening ceremony attended by top security officials.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces appeared unprepared for a coordinated assault by Iraq’s elite troops, and yielded the heart of Kirkuk faster than many military experts expected. Iraqi forces said they faced only light resistance in retaking the K1 military base, an airport, the Kirkuk refinery and the Baba Gurgur oil field.

While Iran is praising Iraq for retaking Kirkuk, the U. S. announces that it will not take sides.

The U. S. stance, however, appears to be in question because the U. S. embassy in Baghdad has declared its support of the Iraqi government:  “We support the peaceful reassertion of federal authority, consistent with the Iraqi Constitution, in all disputed areas,”

The Guardian reports:

US military commanders are scrambling to stop a conflict escalating between two forces they arm and train, after the Iraqi army seized the contested, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, from Kurdish peshmerga.

The Pentagon sought to play down the scale of clashes between the two sides, after forces loyal to the central government in Baghdad rapidly took over nearly all the city on Monday, and Kurdish forces abandoned their positions, retreating to nearby oilfields.

. . . .  Col Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, described the takeover, as “coordinated movements, not attacks” and said an exchange of fire that is reported to have resulted in several casualties was “an isolated incident”.

“He have not seen levels of violences suggested in some of the media reports,” Manning said, urging both parties to focus on the “common threat” of the Islamic State. “This is certainly not helpful and again we encourage both sides to not fight each other.”

He added that US commanders in the region were active in trying to mediate between the two sides in the city.

. . . .  Speaking at the White House, Donald Trump said: “We don’t like the fact that they are clashing, but we’re not taking sides.”

But the US embassy in Baghdad declared its support for Iraq’ reassertion of sovereignty in Kirkuk. “We support the peaceful reassertion of federal authority, consistent with the Iraqi Constitution, in all disputed areas,” the embassy said in a statement.

With the loss of Kirkuk and the lack of support from the West, deemed hypocritical by many Kurds, Iraqi Kurdish independence is unlikely to manifest in the near future.