Police deployed overnight Monday in the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk to prevent a deadly dispute from developing into ethnic clashes ahead of a referendum on Kurdish independence, local residents said.
The Kurdish authorities want to hold the vote on Sept 25, despite opposition from the central government in Baghdad and the region’s non-Kurdish population. The city is also home to Arabs and Turkmen.
Kurdish security and the city police erected checkpoints across the city after a Kurd was killed in a clash with the guards of a Turkmen political party office in the city.
Two other Kurds and one Turkmen security guard were also wounded in the clash that broke out when a Kurdish convoy celebrating the referendum, carrying Kurdish flags, drove by the Turkmen party office, security sources said. The Kurdish dead and wounded were among those celebrating, they said.
Tension in the city rose after its Kurdish-led provincial council voted this month to include it in a referendum planned by the Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq.
Kirkuk lies outside the official boundaries of the Kurdistan region. It is claimed by both the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad.
Kurdish peshmerga fighters seized Kirkuk and other disputed territories when the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of Islamic State in 2014, preventing its oilfields from falling into the militants’ hands.
Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militias have threatened to dislodged the peshmerga from Kirkuk should the Kurds persist in holding the vote.
The Kurdish authorities are showing no sign of bowing despite intense international pressure and regional threats to call off the vote which Baghdad says is ”unconstitutional” and a prelude to breaking up the country.
The United Nations, the United States and western powers fear the referendum could distract attention from the fight against Islamic State militants who continue to occupy parts of Iraq and Syria. Iran and Turkey fear contagion for their own Kurdish populations.