Iraq: an overview of recent clashes in Tuz Khormato
As of 1900 hours Baghdad time, the village of Tuz Khormato has fallen quiet, however it is expected that violence will reignite at dawn, perhaps even overnight. Violence between two Iraqi factions has torn the town apart in recent days and has incited calls for negotiations and high-level meetings before the situation worsens.
Tuz Khormato is a multi-ethnic town located about 60 miles south of the city of Kirkuk; while the population is primarily comprised of ethnic Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds also inhabit the town, and ever since last year ethnic tensions have been simmering as Iraq’s brutal war against the Islamic State marches on.Although clashes had occurred previously in Tuz Khormato between Iraqi Shia militias and Kurdish pesmerga forces stationed in the town, a tenuous peace had held until recently. After brief clashes in November 2015, Tuz Khormato fell quiet again despite being divided between Kurdish and Arab forces; this peace ended recently.
On April 23rd, several explosions at the local headquarters of the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) Party sparked a new set of clashes between the local pesmerga and Shia militiamen belonging to Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia group. The Kurdish forces alleged that the explosions were the result of Shia militiamen lobbing grenades at the PUK Party’s office; this is so far unconfirmed. Regardless of who or what sparked the clashes, they have continued throughout the past couple of days, resulting in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries on both sides. Civilians have also suffered casualties due to mortar shelling and exchange of small arms fire.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has called for high-level talks and negotiations between the two sides, citing the need to focus on the looming threat of the Islamic State. The Kurdistan Regional Government leader President Masoud Barzani has also called for negotiations to end the fighting. The pesmerga and Iraqi Armed Forces have begrudgingly shared a common enemy in the Islamic State, and have both engaged Daesh on the Makhmour front in the past couple of months. However, ethnic tensions have threatened to dissolve whatever sort of solidarity has existed between the two forces, and recent political unrest and a parliamentary standoff has threatened stability in Iraq even further.