Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government, accused Baghdad late Friday of imposing “a blockade and collective punishment” on Kurds. The military command in Baghdad responded on Saturday by saying that the Kurdish leadership had engaged in “exaggerations and lies.”
The United States has called on both sides to coordinate its troop movements in order to prevent further clashes. “We urge the central government to calm the situation by limiting federal forces’ movements in disputed areas to only those coordinated with the Kurdistan Regional Government,” Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Last Monday, Baghdad launched a military operation in areas that had been seized by Kurdish forces in 2014 after Iraqi troops fled an Islamic State assault. The move was seen as retaliation for the Kurds’ vote last month, over the objections of Baghdad and the United States, to seek independence from Iraq.
Kurdish forces withdrew without a fight from the city of Kirkuk and other areas after members of a Kurdish faction opposed to Mr. Barzani negotiated an agreement with government officials. Analysts said that a prominent Iranian military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, helped broker the deal.
Iraqi Shiite militias, armed by Iran and advised by General Suleimani, played an important role in the government operation.
The United States said it had not taken sides in the conflict, but it did not object to or interfere with the Iraqi government operation. American troops were in the area, but had no role in the conflict, the coalition said.
Analysts said Washington was expressing its displeasure that Mr. Barzani had spurned American proposals to cancel the independence vote and enter negotiations with Baghdad. American officials told Mr. Barzani after the vote that he had forfeited the good will of the United States, according to a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Kurdish leaders have criticized the United States, saying Washington abandoned the Kurds after some 1,700 pesh merga died fighting the Islamic State. Mr. Barzani’s communications director, Vahal Ali, has accused the United States of “giving Iraq to Iran as a present.”
“The deafening silence from the international community has emboldened Iraq and neighboring countries to attack Kurdistan,” the Kurdish regional government said in a statement. The week’s events, it said, “confirmed Kurds’ legitimate fears about our future in this country.”
Mr. Barzani urged Kurds in the United States and Europe to mount peaceful demonstrations in support of Iraqi Kurdistan. On Saturday, Iraq’s foreign ministry said demonstrators in Erbil had attacked and damaged the Iranian consulate there.
The State Department called on both sides to “engage in dialogue” on the disputed areas. “The reassertion of federal authority over disputed areas in no way changes their status — they remain disputed until their status is resolved in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution,” it said.
The Iraqi military command said Saturday that pesh merga fighters in Altun Kupri had fired a German-supplied missile that struck an American-supplied Abrams tank, killing two Iraqi soldiers. The command denied Kurdish claims that the pesh merga had destroyed 10 Humvees and two Abrams tanks. A coalition spokesman said he could not confirm the battlefield reports.
Local hospitals said that five government militia fighters were also killed in the battle. Three civilians, including a child, were killed as well, they said. Six pesh merga fighters were killed, said Kamal Karkokly, a senior pesh merga commander.
Elsewhere, a leader of the Kurdish faction in Kirkuk, Aras Sheikh Jangi, said pesh merga intelligence officers were working alongside the federal and local police in the disputed city, home to Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens. In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Jangi said all Shiite militias had left the city two days ago.
Shiite militias dominate the so-called popular mobilization forces incorporated into the Iraqi Army. They have been accused of instigating attacks against Kurdish civilians in the disputed areas.
The United Nations said Thursday it had received reports that 150 Kurdish homes in the city of Tuz Khurmatu had been burned by armed groups. After pesh merga fighters withdrew last Monday, the city came under the control of Shiite Turkmen fighters who are part of the popular mobilization forces.
Lise Grande, humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations mission in Iraq, said more than 30,000 civilians had fled Tuz Khurmatu.
In all, the United Nations said, 100,000 civilians have fled from the contested areas, including tens of thousands who left the city of Kirkuk after Monday’s operation, some of whom have returned. Most of those who fled were believed to be Kurdish supporters of Mr. Barzani.
In Baghdad and in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, comments by local residents reflected the enmity between the two sides.
“Well done, Abadi,” said Firas Abbas, 42, a businessman in Baghdad, referring to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “Law and order has to be imposed in all provinces.”
In Erbil, Ahmed Sharif, 53, a retiree, blamed the United States for “an international conspiracy” against the Kurds, who he said had been America’s best friend in the region. “The only beneficiary in this conspiracy is Iran,” he said.
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