Thousands flee Iraq’s Kirkuk: AFP journalist

Thousands of residents fled Kurdish districts of Kirkuk for fear of clashes Monday after Iraqi military forces launched operations against Kurdish fighters near the northern city, an AFP journalist said.

The exodus in buses and cars towards Arbil and Sulaimaniyah, the two main cities of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, created traffic jams on roads leading out of Kirkuk.

A local official in charge of the displaced said tens of thousands, mostly Kurds, were heading out of the city, although at the same time crowds on the streets of Kirkuk’s southern outskirts welcomed Iraqi forces.

“We’re leaving because we’re scared there will be clashes” in the ethnically mixed city of 850,000 people, said 51-year-old Chounem Qader.

“We also had to flee Kirkuk back in 1991, like today,” she said, referring to a Kurdish uprising that was put down by forces of late dictator Saddam Hussein and when tens of thousands of Kurds were deported from the region.

Himen Chouani, a 65-year-old Kurd taking flight with his family, pinned the blame on politicians in both Baghdad and Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

“We were living in peace but politicians don’t want good things for us, neither in Baghdad nor Arbil. They’re fighting to control the oil, and the victims are us, the residents of Kirkuk,” he said.

Iraqi forces seized a key military base, an airport and an oil field from Kurdish fighters in disputed Kirkuk province in a major operation launched on Sunday night. DM


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