U.S. Seeks to Stay Neutral in Iraq Conflict

U.S. Seeks to Stay Neutral in Iraq Conflict by Ben Kesling, Nancy A. Youssef and Paul Sonne – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. sought to stay on the sidelines as an all-out battle broke out between two of its closest ground partners in the campaign against Islamic State and raised concerns about a broader civil conflict erupting in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered federal troops to push into Kirkuk province early Monday and occupy strategic locations that Kurdish Peshmerga forces had taken in a disputed area during the three-year battle against the Sunni militant group.

The clashes follow a referendum in which the Kurds, who run their own semiautonomous region in northern Iraq, voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence, defying Baghdad, regional powers and the U.S, which warned it would distract from the final battles to defeat Islamic State.

Elite government forces swept through disputed areas and into the regional capital to raise the Iraqi flag over the government center and reassert national control. Kurdish Peshmerga forces appeared unprepared for a coordinated assault, and yielded the heart of Kirkuk faster than many military experts expected…

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