Shots rang out Friday morning as Kurdistan’s Peshmerga troops exchanged heavy artillery fire with Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces.
Iraqi troops shelled Kurdish positions north and south of Altun Kupri. The Kurds responded with rocket fire.
Altun Kupri is one of many now-contested areas the Kurds acquired in 2014, when Iraqi troops gave up in the face of an ISIS advance.
Previous reports made it look like the Kurds were going to quietly accept Iraqi control of their resources for the time being, but this exchange could be a predicator of civil war.
According to reports, scattered clashes between the two forces have been taking place since Iraqi forces invaded Kirkuk last week.
An estimated 84 Peshmerga fighters have been killed since Iraqi troops invaded Kirkuk province last Tuesday. Following orders from the prime minister, Iraqi soldiers successfully captured all oil fields, government facilities, and military bases in Kirkuk.
The move follows the Kurds’ controversial independence referendum held in September.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich condemned the attack on Kirkuk, endorsing “the right of the Kurdish people to have self-government” and suggesting the US help them defend their territory against the Iraqi government.
“I think the United States should recognize we have a very deep moral commitment to the Kurdish people – who have, consistently, going back 40 years – been prepared to be our allies and have been the most reliable in the region,” said Gingrich. “I think we have to look seriously at providing adequate support and adequate weapons, so [the Kurds] can defend themselves.”
Gingrich also warned of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. “I think the whole process of the Iranians gradually taking over Iraq is extraordinarily dangerous and would represent a fundamental failure of American power. We certainly did not think that replacing Saddam meant that we would replace him with Iranians.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has expressed similar concerns. “Should the government of Iraq continue down this path and effectively act as a puppet of Iran, it would require a reevaluation of US support to the country.”
Editor’s note: At first it looked like the Kurds were going to back off and keep the peace, but this exchange may be a tipping point. The Iraqis have the numbers by far, but the Kurds are scary brave. I believe the Kurds would win in an intentioned war – they have more intention.