While Kurds also support the idea of the National Guard to fight IS in other parts of the country, they do not want those fighters in areas they run such as the Kurdistan Region and the disputed parts of Kirkuk, Ninevah, Salahuddin and Khanaqin provinces under their control.
In particular, the oil-rich province of Kirkuk has been at the center of the controversy surrounding the National Guard.
In an interview published Feb. 8 in the London-based pan-Arab daily, Al Hayat, Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani said, “We are not in need of the Popular Mobilization [forces] and will not allow any forces to enter Kirkuk.”
Popular Mobilization refers to the armed Shiite groups formed after the collapse of several divisions of the Iraqi army when IS attacked Mosul and other main areas in northern and central Iraq.
After the Iraqi army forces were routed by IS militants last June, the army’s 12th Division abandoned its bases in Kirkuk. Kurdish peshmerga forces moved swiftly and set up shop in the areas of the province where Kurdish populations reside, including the city of Kirkuk and the rich oil fields in its environs.
Sunni Arabs form the vast majority of the Arab population in the ethnically and sectarian-diverse Kirkuk province and other disputed territories. The southern parts of Kirkuk province, around the districts of Hawija and Rashad, host the majority of Sunni Arabs in the province and are currently controlled by IS forces.