A rocket attack on an Iraqi military base killed an American contractor and wounded several U.S. and Iraqi military personnel, the Defense Department said.
It was not clear who was responsible for the attack. American forces in Iraq have been threatened by both Iranian-backed militias and the remnants of the Islamic State.
There are about 5,000 American troops in Iraq. The number of civilian contractors is far more difficult to track.
Some 500 people have died in clashes between security forces and protesters since Oct. 1, according to Iraq’s independent High Commission for Human Rights. Iraqis, mostly from the Shiite majority population, are protesting against corruption, poor services, and Iran’s sweeping influence in the country.
Iraqi security forces were “leading the response and investigation” following the Friday night assault on the base in Kirkuk, where coalition forces are based, the Pentagon said in a statement. The names of the contractor and the wounded Americans were not immediately released, and the statement did not provide any further details.
Rocket assaults on or near Iraqi installations that host American troops and personnel have occurred since the fall, and Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, have expressed increasing concern about Iranian involvement.
Those attacks occurred as widespread anti-government protests intensified, eventually leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
The presence of the oil industry had an effect on Kirkuk’s demographics. The exploitation of Kirkuk’s oil, which began around 1930, attracted both Arabs and Kurds to the city in search of work. Kirkuk, which had been a predominantly Iraqi Turkmen city, gradually lost its uniquely Turkmen character.
At the same time, large numbers of Kurds from the mountains were settling in the uninhabited but cultivable rural parts of the district of Kirkuk. The influx of Kurds into Kirkuk continued through the 1960s.
According to the 1957 census, Kirkuk city was 37.63% Iraqi Turkmen, 33.26% Kurdish with Arabs and Assyrians making up less than 23% of its population.
The discovery of vast quantities of oil in the region after World War I provided the impetus for the annexation of the former Ottoman Vilayet of Mosul (of which the Kirkuk region was a part), to the Iraqi Kingdom, established in 1921. Since then and particularly from 1963 onwards, there have been continuous attempts to transform the ethnic make-up of the region.
Pipelines from Kirkuk run through Turkey to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea and were one of the two main routes for the export of Iraqi oil under the Oil-for-Food Programme following the Gulf War of 1991. This was in accordance with a United Nations mandate that at least 50% of the oil exports pass through Turkey. There were two parallel lines built in 1977 and 1987.
Kurdish control (2014-2016)
On 12 June 2014, following the 2014 Northern Iraq offensive, during which ISIS secured control of Tikrit and nearby areas in Syria, the Iraqi army evacuated Kirkuk and Kurdish armed groups occupied the city.
On 21 October 2016, ISIL launched multiple attacks in Kirkuk to divert Iraqi military resources during the Battle of Mosul. Witnesses reported multiple explosions and gun battles in the city, most centered on a government compound. The attack was brought to an end by 24 October, with 74 militants being killed and others including the leader of the attackers being arrested.
On 16 October 2017, the Iraqi national army and PMF militia retook control of Kirkuk as Kurdish Peshmerga retreated from the city. The city had been under Kurdish Peshmerga control since 2014.
Kirkuk has been a disputed territory for around eighty years — Kurds have wanted Kirkuk to become part of Kurdistan Region, which is opposed by the regions Arab and Turkmen populations. (Turkmen are Turkic people who remained in Iraq after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire).
The Kurds were promised a referendum to resolve Kirkuk’s status under Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution. Following the 2010 parliamentary election the Kurds signed the Erbil Agreement and backed Nouri al-Maliki on the condition that Article 140 would be implemented.
The four largest ethnicities in the city of Kirkuk are Iraqi Turkmen, Kurds, Arabs, and Assyrians.
After attacks by ISIS, Kurdish authorities who were suspicious of the Arab refugees in Kirkuk, expelled hundreds of Arab families who had fled to the region during Iraq’s war against ISIS. The refugees were sent to camps for the displaced or to their places of origin. Some of the displaced described themselves as locals and not as internally displaced.