By Anadolu Agency staff
Several Anadolu Agency correspondents narrowly escaped with their lives on Friday after numerous mortar shells crashed to earth not far from where they were standing on northern Iraq’s volatile Erbil-Kirkuk highway.
As Iraqi forces seized control of Kirkuk’s northern Altunkopru sub-district Friday morning, the Anadolu Agency team -- along with several reporters from other news agencies -- was caught in the crossfire between the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
While none of them suffered any injuries, the team’s vehicle was slightly damaged by flying shrapnel and shell fragments.
Idris Okuducu, an Anadolu Agency correspondent at the scene, said: “Everything seemed normal at first; then the [Iraqi army] attack on Peshmerga positions began.”
“We couldn’t anticipate what would happen,” he added. “We took cover and tried to protect ourselves, but when we saw injured Peshmerga fighters around us, we ran to the safe zone.”
“The fighting was very intense,” Okuducu recalled. “The sound of gunfire and artillery shelling never stopped.”
Earlier this week, Iraqi forces moved into Kirkuk province -- and into other disputed parts of Iraq -- following the withdrawal of Peshmerga fighters loyal to the Erbil-based Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
Iraqi forces swiftly assumed control of strategic facilities throughout the province, including the North Oil Company, the Baba Gurgur oilfield, the K1 military base, the Mullah Abdullah oil refinery and Kirkuk’s main airport, among others.
Tension has steadily mounted between Baghdad and the KRG since Sept. 25, when Iraqis in KRG-controlled areas -- and in several disputed parts of the country -- voted on whether or not to declare independence from the Iraqi state.
According to poll results announced by the KRG, almost 93 percent of those who cast ballots voted in favor of independence.
The illegitimate referendum faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors (including the U.S., Turkey and Iran), who had warned that the poll would distract from Iraq’s fight against terrorism and further destabilize the already-volatile region.