Kurdish people in Khanaqin upraised against the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq militia gruop. Raised massively Kurdistan flag in the town and drove the militia out.— Hemin Hawrami (@heminhawrami) October 18, 2017
Some on social media tried to frame it as an uprising that had pushed out militia forces, known as popular mobilization units. But Rakan Jabbouri, the acting governor of Kirkuk, said the units were pulled back for other reasons.
“The [PMUs] aren't a unified force; there were some incidents where people were robbed or harassed,” he said. “That's why it was decided to pull them out of the civilian neighborhoods to avoid chaos.”
Since Iraq's military moved into Kirkuk and other disputed areas Monday, frantic news reports on Kurdish channels have fueled sporadic exoduses from the city. Iraqi authorities have denied that any abuses of Kurds by Iraqi troops have taken place and warned soldiers against firing their weapons during the move on the city.
Some Iraqi news channels, mostly those linked with the influential Shiite militias, have also contributed to the tension. A reporter for Al-Ahad, a network funded by the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, referred to Kurdish forces as “the Zionist entity” in one broadcast — an apparent pointing to the fact that Israel is the only nation in the region to publicly support the Kurdish independence referendum.
Reports of Kurdish homes being looted and burned in territory taken by Iraqi forces and Shiite militias have caused “considerable displacement in the past few days as people fled preemptively, fearing clashes,” the United Nations said Thursday, saying that it was expected that the residents would soon return home.
Two Kurdish networks, both funded by senior officials with the dominant Kurdish Democratic Party in Irbil, have come under criticism for spreading unverified reports of abuse and allegedly broadcasting calls for Kurds to resist Iraqi troops. On Wednesday, the Joint Operations Command in Baghdad and the Kirkuk provincial council urged the Iraqi Commission for Media and Communications to revoke the broadcast licenses for the two networks, Rudaw and K24, for allegedly broadcasting false news. The JOC, which administers all Iraqi military operations, said it would revoke the networks' access to military operations.
Rudaw has said it has been threatened by militia forces and has withdrawn all reporters and other staffers from Kirkuk for their safety. The network issued a statement denouncing the JOC move as “contrary to the Iraqi constitution and freedom of press.” It defended its reporting and pledged to sue any entity defaming the media network.
Morris reported from Kirkuk. Mustafa Salim contributed to this report.