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Iraqi Government, Kurdish Leaders Urged to Cooperate

Ayatollah Sistani said “kurdish leaders must unite and cooperate with Baghdad in accordance with the Iraqi constitution to solve the current crisis.”
A convoy of Iraqi military trucks makes its way to Kirkuk on October 16.A convoy of Iraqi military trucks makes its way to Kirkuk on October 16.

Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Friday called on the government to protect the Kurdish population in northern Iraq.

Sistani’s call, issued at the Friday prayer in the holy Shia city of Kerbala by one of his representatives, came amid reports of abuses against Kurds in Kirkuk and other areas taken by Iraqi forces since Monday, Reuters reported.

The cleric's call comes after Iraq’s federal forces, supported by militias, rolled into the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, forcing the Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, to withdraw after brief clashes.

Sistani said the presence of the security forces in Kirkuk “should not be construed as victory for one side or defeat for the other. It is a victory for all Iraqi people," ISNA reported citing Alsumaria news.

He also warned against settling personal scores and called for measures to de-escalate the tense situation there.

"Kurdish leaders must unite and cooperate with Baghdad in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution to solve the current crisis," he was quoted by his representative.

The top cleric urged the Baghdad government to win over the trust of its Kurdish population and take measures to support them.

*** Exchange of Fire

According to AP, Iraq’s anti-terrorism and federal police forces shelled Kurdish military positions north and south of Altun Kupri, just outside the country’s autonomous Kurdish region, a day after Brig. Gen. Raad Baddai gave warning he was going to enter the town.

The Peshmerga responded with rocket fire.

Iraq’s federal authority claims Altun Kupri for itself as it is part of the areas acquired by the Kurds in 2014, when Iraqi soldiers gave up their posts in the face of a self-styled Islamic State terrorist group advance.

Kurdish authorities have sent reinforcements to the front lines. An Associated Press team saw a convoy of 50 armored vehicles arriving at the Kurdish side of the front.

Thick black smoke rose from a checkpoint north of Altun Kupri after it was hit by a shell.

The Peshmerga are vastly outmatched by Iraq’s federal armed forces and militias that fight alongside them. Both the Kurds and the federal forces are accustomed to calling and receiving coalition air support as part of their shared war on the IS group.

“There’s nothing we can do about it, honestly. I’m urging the coalition forces to come and help us.” said Peshmerga fighter Ibrahim Mirza. “No doubt we have martyrs.”

On Monday, Iraq’s federal forces, supported by militias, rolled into the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, forcing the Peshmerga to withdraw after brief clashes.

Kirkuk was at the heart of the dispute over whether Kurdish authorities should return the territories it acquired during the war on IS. They have lost an important stream of oil revenues with the loss of Kirkuk, dealing a serious blow to aspirations for independence.

Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani championed a non-binding vote for independence in September. Baghdad condemned it and instead demanded the return of the disputed territories, precipitating the crisis.

Altun Kupri is 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Kirkuk.

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