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Explainer: Why Iraq's Kirkuk has reached brink of conflict

Tensions flare up in Kirkuk ahead of provincial elections in December amid Arab and Turkmen fears of renewed Kurdish control of the oil-rich city.
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Plagued by the oil curse and long disputed between its ethnic communities, the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk is once again teetering on the edge of civil war, with local elections just three months away. 

The crisis began when Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani decided in late August that the Iraqi military’s Joint Operations Command should evacuate its headquarters in Kirkuk and return the building to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the ruling party of Iraqi Kurdistan

The decision, intended as a gesture of goodwill to the KDP, ignited ethnic sensitivities and fears in the historically disputed, oil-rich city, which central government forces reclaimed from Kurdish control just six years ago. 

With Kirkuk heading to provincial council elections on Dec. 18, a rising KDP profile in the city irritated other groups, including the KDP’s main Kurdish rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

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