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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

US 'very concerned' over Kirkuk and McCain warns of 'severe consequences'

The comments followed the Iraqi forces' capture of the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk on Monday

The Trump administration is reacting with a heightened level of concern over the violence around Kirkuk as ranking US Senators warn Iraqi government of using US equipment and resources in attacking Kurdish forces.

Late on Tuesday, the State Department issued a statement that US remains “very concerned by reports of violence around Kirkuk” and calls “on all parties to coordinate military activities and restore calm.”

The State Department said that it is in touch with “officials from the central and regional governments to reduce tensions, avoid further clashes, and encourage dialogue”. It called for restoring joint administration over the city “consistent with the Iraqi Constitution, in all disputed areas”.

Hours after Mr Trump declared that the US will “not be taking sides” in the dispute between Baghdad and Kurdistan, the administration is now calling on all sides to “avoid provocations that can be exploited by Iraq’s enemies who are interested in fuelling ethnic and sectarian conflict”, especially by undermining the fight against ISIL in Iraq.

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Read more:

Iraqi forces seize Kirkuk from Kurdish fighters

Kurds, Iraqi forces in standoff in oil-rich Kirkuk

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US Senators from both parties were more direct in their warnings and concerns over the situation. Republican Senator John McCain said in a statement that he is “especially concerned by media reports that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces are part of the assault” in Kirkuk. “Iraqi forces must take immediate steps to de-escalate this volatile situation by ceasing their advances.”

Mr McCain warned of “severe consequences” if US military equipment provided to the Iraqi government continued to be “misused” against Kurdish forces. “The United States provided equipment and training to the government of Iraq to fight [ISIL] and secure itself from external threats - not to attack elements of one of its own regional governments, which is a longstanding and valuable partner of the United States,” he said.

The Senator called for immediate dialogue between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government to engage in a dialogue and halt hostilities.

Democratic leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer also criticised the use of US resources in this fight. “Every ounce of energy and resources the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Peshmerga spend fighting each other should instead be spent fighting [ISIL] and terrorism in the region,” he said.

“This is especially true when those resources are those sent by the United States,” Mr Schumer added.

The Senator also called for dialogue that would in his opinion “determine the best way to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Iraqi Kurds.”