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Curfew imposed in Kirkuk before Kurdish independence vote

Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militias have threatened to dislodged the peshmerga from Kirkuk should the Kurds proceed with the vote

Iraqi authorities in the northern city of Kirkuk have imposed a nighttime curfew to prevent a deadly dispute from developing into ethnic clashes before a referendum on Kurdish independence, local residents have said.

The Kurdish authorities want to hold the vote on 25 September, despite opposition from the central government in Baghdad and the region’s non-Kurdish population. The oil-rich city is also home to Arabs and Turkmen, the Guardian reports.

Kurdish security and the police erected checkpoints across the city after a Kurd was killed in a clash with the guards of a Turkmen political party office.

Two other Kurds and a Turkmen security guard were also wounded in the clash that broke out on Monday night when a Kurdish convoy celebrating the referendum drove past the Turkmen party office, security sources said. The Kurdish dead and wounded were among those who had been celebrating, they said.

Tension in the city rose after the Kurdish-led provincial council voted this month to include it in a referendum planned by the Kurdistan regional government of northern Iraq.

Kirkuk lies outside the official boundaries of the Kurdistan region and is claimed by both the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters seized Kirkuk and other disputed territories when the Iraqi army was defeated by Islamic State in 2014, preventing its oilfields from falling into the militants’ hands.

Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militias have threatened to dislodged the peshmerga from Kirkuk should the Kurds proceed with the vote.

The Kurdish authorities show no sign of bowing despite international pressure and regional threats to call off the referendum, which Baghdad claims is unconstitutional and a prelude to breaking up the country.

The UN, US and other western powers fear the poll could distract attention from the fight against Isis militants occupying parts of Iraq and Syria. Iran and Turkey fear it will further unsettle their own Kurdish populations.

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