IS launched a multi-pronged assault on Kirkuk city on Jan, 29, but after two days of intense fighting, Kurdish forces pushed back IS militants, preventing them from reaching the city. Following those attacks, scores of Shiite armed elements reportedly set up shop south of Kirkuk city with the stated aim of assisting the peshmerga forces in defending the city. There were some Popular Mobilization forces in Kirkuk even before Jan. 29.
There appears to be a rift in the stance of the two dominant Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), in terms of their approach to the Shiite armed groups.
Whereas the KDP, led by Barzani, is adamant in rejecting the presence of Shiite armed groups in areas under Kurdish control, the PUK, led by former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, appears to have a lukewarm position. Peshmerga forces affiliated with the PUK have cooperated with the Shiite armed groups in liberating areas such as Amerli in Salahuddin province and Jalawla in Diyala province.
Abdullah, the Kurdish member of parliament, says that the Shiite groups have violated their earlier agreements with Kurds to leave the Kurdish-controlled areas after Amerli was recaptured from IS in September and Jalawla in November last year.
In a visit to Kirkuk on Feb. 7, Hadi al-Ameri, the head of the Badr Brigades, an Iranian-backed Shiite armed group, hinted at possible plans for cooperation between the Popular Mobilization units and the peshmerga forces.
“Kirkuk is of high importance and has oil and gas resources as well as power stations,” Ameri said following a meeting with Kirkuk Gov. Najmaddin Karim. “We have to act toward ending the threat posed by Daesh [IS] through high coordination with the peshmerga forces and the governor, and this requires swift action.”