A handout picture made available by the Iranian Vice Presidency shows Iranian Vice President Mohammad Mokhber (R) and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia' al-Sudani (C) greeting officials on the sidelines of an unveiling ceremony to launch the construction of the joint Shalamcheh-Basra railway project, at the Shalamcheh-Basra border crossing in the southern province of Basra, in Basra, Iraq, 02 September 2023 (issued 03 September 2023). EFE-EPA/IRANIAN VICE PRESIDENCY / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Ethnic clashes leave at least 3 dead in Iraq

Baghdad, Sep 3 (EFE).- At least three people lost their lives, and a dozen others sustained injuries during clashes between ethnic groups in the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, according to officials on Sunday.

The clashes occurred on Saturday night after several days of escalating tension over the government’s plan to transfer to the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) a building that formerly housed an army base.

The city is home to a mixed population of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen.

Arab and Turkmen groups have vehemently opposed the handover of the building to the Kurds that served as the headquarters of the KDP until 2017.

The KDP vacated it in October 2017 after federal forces seized control of Kirkuk and its surrounding oil fields as regional authorities held a contentious referendum for Kurdish independence.

Police and health sources reported that at least one Kurd protester died as opposing factions used light weapons and hurled stones at each other.

Dozens of people sustained injuries, some of them severe.

Two other Kurds succumbed to their injuries at a public hospital, health sources told EFE.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al Sudani has imposed a curfew in the city and instructed security forces to apprehend people threatening peace.

The prime minister has “ordered forces to conduct extensive security operations in areas affected by unrest,” Sudani’s spokesperson, Major General Yahya Rasool, said in a press statement.

The Iraqi army used the disputed building as a base for combating Islamic State fighters in the region.

For several days, groups of Arabs and Turkmen who oppose the Kurdish government in Kirkuk had set up camp near the building to prevent its transfer to the KDP.

On Saturday, groups of Kurds arrived at the site and clashed with the protesters, according to the police.

Al Sudani also decided to delay the handover of the disputed building to the KDP, as reported by the official Iraqi news agency, INA, on Sunday.

Following the announcement, “the protesters decided to end their sit-in and re-open the (blocked) roads,” a police officer told EFE.

“The situation is stable. The curfew has been lifted and the closed roads have been opened,” the Kirkuk police chief, Ihsan Al Jumaili, told EFE.

He said the security forces would remain in the city.

Kirkuk is an oil-rich city on the border between the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan (north) and the rest of the country. EFE