Kurds take Kirkuk, ISIS press offensive

Kurdish forces announced that they have taken full control of Kirkuk after the Iraqi army fled before the ISIS offensive nearby Nineveh governorate. "The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of peshmerga," Kurdish spokesman Jabbar Yawar told Reuters. "No Iraq army remains in Kirkuk now." The fall of Mosul, Nineveh's capital and the country's second city, to ISIS threatens to unravel the delicate political balance in Iraq's north. Kirkuk and the surrounding governorate of Tamim (see map) has long been at the heart of a dispute between Iraq's Arabs and Kurds. ISIS is reported to be shelling areas south of Kirkuk. "After their defeat by the Peshmerga, the ISIS are now shelling the liberated areas from a distance, using seized Iraqi weapons," said Anwar Haji Osman, the Kurdistan Regional Government's deputy minister of Peshmerga, the Kurdish armed force.

Clashes between Kurdish and Iraqi government forces are also reported. In the town of Jalawla, Diyala governorate, an Iraqi army SWAT team apparently offered resistance as their positions were taken by combined troops of the Peshmerga and Asayish, the Kurdish police force. "An Iraqi SWAT team tried to stop us, which led to a shootout between us," the local Asayish commander, Maj. Pishtiwan, said. "The fighting is over now. The SWAT teams have gone and the entire town is under full Peshmerga and Asayish control."

Iraq's parliament has postponed a vote on a call by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki for a state of emergency, amid outrage that weapons, tanks and armored vehicles abanoned by the army in Mosul have fallen into the hands of ISIS. The jihadist advance is now halted at Samarra, Salaheddin governorate, just 125 kilometers north of Baghdad. The government has reportedly launched air-strikes in ISIS-held Mosul. (BBC News, Rudaw, IBT, Long War Journal, June 12; Azzaman, June 11)

Alarm have of course been sounded over the fate of the Christian minority in Nieveh. ISIS have reportedly occupied Christian areas near Mosul, and have occupied the Assyrian (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) village of Qaraqosh and entered the St. Behnam Monastery. ISIS militants are said to be warning Christian women to wear the Islamic veil, and enforcing the order at checkpoints they have established throughout the city and surrounding area. The husband of an Assyrian woman was reportedly abducted at a checkpoint and threatened with death if his wife did not take the veil. ISIS militants are also reported to have bombed an Armenian church that was under construction in Mosul, while other churches in the city have been looted. (AINA, June 12)

Fears have also been raised over the security of Iraq's oil infrastructure. ISIS has seized the Salaheddin city of Baiji, and is said to be moving on the local refinery, Iraq's largest. (Iraq Oil Report, June 11) Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi (also rendered Elaibi) assured international investors that the southern oil export facilities remain secure, with shipments running at 2.6 million barrels per day. Speaking to reporters ahead of an OPEC meeting in Vienna, he said: “All our exports now are from the Basra terminal in the south—and it's a very, very safe area." Iraq's northern export pipeline, from Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, has been out of operation since a March bomb attack. (Iraq Business News, June 12)

  1. Oil price surges on Iraq implosion

    The international oil price surged above $114 a barrel on June 13 for the first time in nine months as militants routed the Iraqi army in the north and advanced toward Baghdad. The ISIS offesnive has halted repairs to the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. The conflict threatens output in OPEC’s second-biggest crude producer. Iraq is forecast to provide 60 percent of the group’s growth for the rest of this decade, according to the International Energy Agency. (Bloomberg, June 16)

    See our last posts on the global oil price and the struggle for Iraq's oil.

  2. Iraqi Kurds sell oil to Israel?

    Days after the Kurdish seizure of Kirkuk and nearby oil-fields, Reuters reports that a tanker named the SCF Altai has arrived at the Israeli port of Ashkelon—apparently with a cargo of oil from the newly opened "KRG pipeline." This was just built by the Kurdistan Regional Government to connect its oil-fields with the Turkish support of Ceyhan, bypassing the Baghdad-controlled (and now disabled) Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. It is uncertain if Israel is the ultimate destination of what Reuters calls the "disputed crude oil." An unnamed Israeli energy ministry spokesperson is quoted saying: "We do not comment on the origin of crude oil being imported by the private refineries in Israel."

    Al-Monitor reported on the opening of the KRG pipeline last November. The account does not mention who was contracted to build it. Can anyone provide more information?