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Iraqi federal forces seize oil-rich Kirkuk in shock blow for Kurds
Iraqi federal forces seized the contested city of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces almost unopposed on Monday in a stunning reversal of fortunes for Iraq?s Kurds. The loss of the city and its nearby oil fields is a massive blow to dreams of independence for the Kurds, who last month held an independence referendum in anticipation of entering secession talks with Baghdad. ?We took Kirkuk easily,? a lieutenant in the Iraqi federal police Emergency Response Division told the Telegraph via telephone on Monday. ?We are all brothers, there were not problems, some of the Kurdish Peshmerga even took pictures with me,? said the 27-year-old, who gave his first name as Moqtader. The Kurdistan Regional Government?s Security Council reported that ?Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces? attacked in ?a major, multi-pronged operation? that deployed ?US military equipment, including Abrams tanks and Humvees.? The statement also said ?Peshmerga Forces have destroyed at least five US Humvees used by PMF.? Most Peshmerga forces withdrew from the contested city without fighting however after Baghdad issued the Kurds an ultimatum to pull back to pre-2014 positions. Long columns of armoured vehicles and pick up trucks filled with Kurdish fighters withdrew from positions around the city on Monday, jamming roads already crowded with fleeing Kurdish civilians who said they felt abandoned and feared Shia militias entering the city. Military vehicles enter Kirkuk Credit: Stringer/Reuters ?They cheated us and we?ve been betrayed,? a Kurdish man Kawa Mustafa Mohamed shouted from his car as he and his family waited in heavy traffic to leave the city. ?I don?t know where I?m going now but my father was killed by the Iraqis and I don?t want that to happen to my family.? Another man, Malla Bahir, had packed five of family members and piles of hastily gathered possessions crammed in his pick up truck. ?I want to keep my daughters and wife safe,? he said. Left behind were disorganised bands of enraged Kurdish gunmen who vowed to defend the city. ?Only us volunteers fought, not the Peshmerga,? said Hardi Farouk, a 27-year old in bleached blue jeans clutching an AK-47 assault rifle in south Kirkuk. Moments earlier a pickup truck carrying two grievously injured Kurdish fighters had careened through the intersection where Forouk stood and then the lightly armed band of Kurdish men nearby started firing their weapons in the direction of the distant K1 military base which had just been seized by Iraqi forces. Shortly afterwards mortars began exploding nearby and soon after the men had scattered a convoy of Iraqi federal forces would enter the city unopposed. The prospect of a new civil war in the ethnically mixed city is a potential boon for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). The international coalition said it was ?closely monitoring the situation? and urged all sides to avoid ?escalatory actions?. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former British Army officer now advising the Kurdish Peshmerga, said: ?The greatest evil everywhere is Isil and the greatest threat to the UK is Isil. It?s the defeat of Islamic State that is key and the trouble is people in Iraq believe that the fight against Isil is over and it?s focused in Raqqa and Syria. But there are still pockets in Iraq and anything that deflects from that could have a global impact.? The Foreign Office in London last night urged "calm on all sides" and said it wanted to "encourage steps to de-escalate tensions in Kirkuk". Iraqi boys walk over the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk Credit: Stringer/Reuters Kurdish forces have controlled Kirkuk since summer 2014 when federal forces abandoned their defences ahead of an Islamic State advance across northern Iraq. Since then the Kurds have exported oil from Kirkuk fields ? some 350,000 barrels of oil per day? a critical contribution to their economy since Baghdad stopped budget payments to the region following a dispute over oil revenues in 2015. In recent weeks Baghdad stepped up demands for the return of Kirkuk and its oil fields after the Kurds proceeded with holding a disputed referendum on independence that extended voting to disputed territories. Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi took pains to portray the military operation as being in the interests of Iraqi citizens. In a statement released Monday, he said: ?We assure our people in Kurdistan and in Kirkuk in particular that we are keen on their safety and best interest. We have only acted to fulfill our constitutional duty to extend the federal authority and impose security and protect the national wealth in this city, which we want to remain a city of peaceful coexistence for all Iraqis.? Both federal and Kurdish leaders have attempted to paint the other as aggressors in the dispute. ?Peshmerga will continue to defend Kurdistan, its peoples and interests,? wrote the Kurdistan Regional Government?s Security Council. Not all Kirkuk residents were dismayed by the change in control in the city. Photos shared on social media showed Turkmen residents celebrating in the streets near the citadel at the heart of the city and Iraqi Arabs bringing tea and sweets to advancing federal forces. A banner showing an image of the Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani, as Iraqi forces advance towards Kirkuk Credit: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP In other areas though, Kurdish men said they would fight to the death despite their leaders? decision to withdraw from the city. ?I?m going to stay to the end,? said Baran Abdullah, a 25-year-old Peshmerga fighter who said he?d come to the city without orders with his father and two brothers after seeing the news on television. As he stood on an overpass, vehicles continued streaming out of the city passed an enormous statue of a Kurdish fighter. The 26-metre high edifice was recently inaugurated by former Kirkuk governor Najmaddin Karim in honour of the Kurdish fighters who had defended the city against Isis in 2014. ?Our leaders sold us out, they sold Kirkuk and they sold the martyrs,? said Abdullah. Standing alongside him were two female fighters from the the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). On Sunday evening the National Security Council in Baghdad had characterised the presence of the outlawed militant group in the city as a ?declaration of war? by the Kurds, despite the fact that they had been in the city since 2014. The women declined to be interviewed but said the PKK would also stay to defend the city. Just hours later though, photos shared online showed Iraqi forces stationed next to the statue amid reports that federal control over the city was complete.
Wildfires burn out of control in Portugal and Spain
Wildfires in Portugal killed at least 27 people, injured dozens more and left others missing in the country?s second such tragedy in four months, officials said Monday. In neighboring Spain, four deaths were reported. The fatalities in Portugal occurred in densely forested parts of central and northern part of the country after blazes broke out in ?exceptional? weather circumstances, Civil Protection Agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar said.
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No verdict on 1st day of jury work in burning death trial
BATESVILLE, Miss. (AP) ? Jurors deliberated more than four hours Sunday without reaching a verdict in the trial of a Mississippi man charged with burning a woman to death in 2014. The judge sent the sequestered group back to their hotel for the night, and court will be back in session for more deliberations Monday.
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