BAGHDAD The commander of Kurdish Peshmerga forces warned Tuesday that his troops might attack Iraqi government soldiers at “any minute” after the central government sent tanks and armored vehicles toward the disputed city of Kirkuk.
The threat was the latest sign of increasing tension between the autonomous Kurdish region and Baghdad after the central government sent forces last month to the area, including disputed sites in a new military command.
Already poor relations between the central government and Kurds worsened after an Iraqi government decision last month to set up a new military command there.
The force also oversees disputed areas claimed by Iraqi Arabs, Turkomen and Kurds, in particular the areas surrounding Mosul and Kirkuk.
U.S. forces once supervised the area, helping Kurdish and Arab security forces form joint patrols.
“A big battle might erupt any minute,” commander Mahmoud Sankawi said. His Peshmerga forces control security in the Kurdish autonomous region and are also present in disputed areas that Kurds seek to add to their self-ruled are. “We are on high alert. We will not allow any force to threaten the security of Kurdistan. We will resist them,” he said.
Sankawi said overnight, some 30 Iraqi government tanks took up positions some 50 miles from Kirkuk. He said dozens of other tanks were positioned in the Hamrin mountain, some 95 miles from Kirkuk. The city lies on the outskirts of the autonomous Kurdish region.