Iraqi special forces deployed in Kirkuk on Thursday after the provincial governor on Wednesday asked the central government in Baghdad to send military reinforcements to the region after members of a Kurdish political party raised the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) flag over a political party headquarters.
Iraqi security forces in Kirkuk on Tuesday dispersed a rally by supporters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) after the latter began waving KRG flags.
Iraq's counter-terrorism chief gave KRG President Barham Saleh's PUK until noon on Friday to lower the KRG flag over the building.
The Erbil-based KRG had controlled oil-rich Kirkuk province from mid-2014 until late 2017.
Kirkuk Governor Saeed al Jabouri has reportedly urged local residents to refrain from any activities that could aggravate tensions further.
“We have directed the security forces to address the situation with a view to safeguarding the city’s security and stability," he was quoted as saying.
Al Jabouri reportedly requested that Baghdad send military reinforcements “to thwart those who would attempt to undermine security."
Violation of Iraq's constitution
Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi appealed to Saleh after the flag was raised on Tuesday evening.
Abdel Mahdi spoke by telephone to the KRG president, who was on a visit to Qatar, the premier's office said.
Abdel Mahdi said that flying the flag above party headquarters in Kirkuk was "a violation of the [Iraqi] constitution."
He suggested the matter be referred to the Supreme Court.
Reaction by Iraqi Turkmen Front
The Iraqi Turkmen Front on Wednesday criticised PUK supporters for raising the flag, saying the move was intended “to raise tensions."
“[Raising KRG flags] violates both the law and the Iraqi state’s sovereignty over Kirkuk,” the front said in a statement.
In October 2017, Iraqi federal forces moved into several areas “disputed” between Baghdad and Erbil, including Kirkuk.
The deployments were accompanied by the withdrawal from these areas of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters loyal to the KRG.
The moves came shortly after the KRG held a referendum on regional independence that was ruled illegal by Iraq's Supreme Court and widely condemned by states in the region.