[Ed. – This is a heat-up, made almost inevitable by the hydra-headed problem of the Kurdish independence bid and the intertwined reactions to it of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. It’s a situation in which the U.S. need not — should not — try to shape the conditions with force. But if we try to influence it, we need to do it from the position of leadership and a positive policy — not mere placation of the competing parties and a negative hope that nothing goes even more wrong. Unfortunately, the latter is more descriptive of the present reality.]
Thousands of Iraqi troops were locked in an armed standoff with Kurdish forces in the disputed oil province of Kirkuk on Saturday as Washington scrambled to avert fighting between the key allies in the war against the Islamic State (IS) group.
The clock was ticking down to a 2 am Sunday (2300 GMT Saturday) deadline that the Kurds say Baghdad has set for their forces to surrender positions they took during the fightback against IS over the past three years.
Armoured cars of the Iraqi army bearing the national flag were posted on the bank of a river on the southern outskirts of the city of Kirkuk, an AFP photographer reported.
On the opposite bank, Kurdish peshmerga fighters were visible behind an earthen embankment topped with concrete blocks painted with the red, white green and yellow of the Kurdish flag. …
The two sides have been at loggerheads since the Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence in a September 25 referendum that Baghdad rejected as illegal.