09:58 GMT18 May 2021
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    According to witness reports up to 95 percent of Kirkuk's Kurdish residents may have left the city before the Iraqi army entered it.

    CAIRO (Sputnik) — Up to 100,000 Kirkuk residents of Kurdish nationality could have left the city before the Iraqi army entered it on Monday, a man who saw the mass exodus of the inhabitants told Sputnik on Monday.

    According to the eyewitness, Abdallah, car traffic to the cities of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah did not stop until late Monday.

    "Virtually all Kurds have left Kirkuk, 90 to 95 percent, maybe 100,000 people," he said.

    According to Abdallah, many residents left their homes, fearing persecution by the Shia-dominated militia coalition Hashd al-Shaabi "for the participation of the Kurdish people in the referendum on independence."

    In turn, Arab and Turkoman residents welcomed Iraqi forces with the national flags of Iraq, having arranged merry festivities on the streets of the city, the source said.

    On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi ordered a military operation to secure bases and federal facilities in Kirkuk province following the Kurdish independence referendum, deemed illegal by Baghdad. The vote was held on September 25 in the autonomy and other territories that are claimed by Erbil and de facto controlled by Peshmerga, although not within the autonomy's official borders.


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