The Iraqi army said on Wednesday that it had completed an operation to recapture disputed areas that have been held by Kurdish forces since 2014.
Baghdad launched a successful midnight offensive early on Monday carried out by the Iraqi military on the Kurdish Peshmerga to retake the strategic city of Kirkuk and its surrounding oil installation and regions.
By Tuesday, Iraqi forces also held parts of Nineveh and Diyala provinces.
However, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi ordered all armed forces to withdraw from Kirkuk on Wednesday without explanation.
Kurds departed positions along the Iran-Iraq border and Makhmur district southeast of Mosul without explanation.
Iraqi forces were taking land that had been under Kurdish administration since Iraqi forces fled upon the Daesh arrival in June of 2014, or it was captured while Peshmerga battled with so-called Islamic State
If this recent statement by the army is an implication of finishing a campaign, it would contrast with what Iraqi Vice-President Nouri Maliki said Tuesday afternoon.
Nouri said in a statement that Iraqi forces will march on the capital of the Kurdistan Region, Erbil, and raise the Iraqi flag.
PM Al-Abadi called for open dialogue with the Kurdistan Regional Government late on Tuesday, requesting a “national partnership” based on the Iraqi constitution.
The Iraqi offensive comes three weeks after the autonomous Kurdistan Region held an independence referendum resulting in an overwhelming mandate to separate from Baghdad, which Iraq condemns.
The Kirkuk region was allowed to vote on Sept. 25 i the Kurdish referendum.
Thousands of civilians returned to their homes in Kirkuk on Monday evening and Tuesday after fleeing from the city when Iraqi forces entered.
There hasn’t been much conflict beyond skirmishes and artillery fire in and around Kirkuk up to this point, according to monitors and local reports.
However, as Kurdish forces retreated a security vacuum occurred allowing so-called Islamic State to make some rare gains by taking the villages of Taweeli’ah and al-Maliha.
Just weeks earlier, Kurdish and Iraqi forces were working in a U.S.-backed coalition with Shia militias to push Daesh out of the country’s northwest.
Kurds held Kirkuk since June 2014 when Daesh (IS) swept through the northern regions during their “lightening offensive” when they captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
The Kurdish military wing, known as the Peshmerga, were credited with defending key positions including important oil installations outside Kirkuk as Iraqi soldiers largely retreated during the militant advance.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had denounced the Kurdish referendum as unconstitutional, but the Kurdistan Regional Government insisted on its legitimacy.
The United States has called for calm in the region, with President Donald Trump saying Washington would not “be taking sides.”
Before and after
Oct. 10, before Iraqi strike
Oct 18, after Iraqi strike
More details to follow. Image 1 of Iraqi federal forces advancing in military vehicles in Kirkuk, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2017 from Public Radio International.