President Donald Trump has said that US officials were “not taking sides”, after Iraqi government forces seized Kirkuk from Kurdish control.
Armoured vehicles moved into the northern city yesterday, securing nearby oil fields and causing residents to flee.
The US has previously backed both the Iraqi government and the Kurds, both are allies in the fight against IS.
Now the U.S are urging both to negotiate.
State department spokeswomen Heather Nauert urged all parties to “avoid further clashes”, adding in a statement:
"We strongly urge all parties to avoid provocations that can be exploited by Iraq's enemies who are interested in fuelling ethnic and sectarian conflict. In particular, we note that there is still much work to be done to defeat ISIS in Iraq, and continued tensions between Iraqi and Kurdish forces distract from this vital mission."
Trump expressed his disappointment to reporters at the White House:
“We don’t like the fact that there are clashing."
He added: "We’ve had for many years a very good relationship with the Kurds as you know and we’ve also been on the side of Iraq, even though we should have never been there in the first place. We should never have been there."
Senator John McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, cautioned the Iraqi government of "severe consequences" if US-supplied weaponry was misused in operations against Kurdish forces.
The Senator warned:
"The United States provided equipment and training to the government of Iraq to fight (Islamic State) and secure itself from external threats, not to attack elements of one of its own regional governments."
Tensions are high after yesterday’s grab for control. According to Reuters, Forces pulled down the Kurdish flag which had been flying alongside the Iraqi national flag.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claimed that the operation was vital to “protect the unity of the country, which was in danger of partition”.
However, the Peshmerga General Command has accused officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of aiding the “plot against the people of Kurdistan”.