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Kurdish troops take Kirkuk after Iraqi forces flee

June 12, 2014 at 6:09 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News filed this view of the intensified fighting from Irbil.

JONATHAN RUGMAN, ITN: Outside Kirkuk, Iraqi troops from the 12th Division were filmed trying to halt the Islamist advance.

But it seems they didn’t try for long. Somebody filmed the Iraqi soldiers fleeing, many of them in civilian clothing, and apparently leaving behind this military base as a playground for jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

Some playground. From this footage, we could count 14 abandoned tanks. And so it was that Kurdish peshmerga fighters moved in to occupy Kirkuk, they said to stop it from falling, Kirkuk, the city that Kurds have long claimed as their historical capital.

The Kurdish fighters here argue that they are the only force for stability in this region because so much of the Iraqi army has collapsed. But the temptation for the Kurds is to hold on to Kirkuk come what may, not just because of its oil wealth, but because they have always wanted it as part of a future Kurdish state. And a Kurdish state is what might eventually happen here if Iraq does indeed collapse.

At this checkpoint north of Kirkuk, we found Kurdish forces inspecting the cars of refugees for jihadist weapons and bomb-making equipment. One of their commanders had earlier survived a roadside bomb attack, but one of his men didn’t.

Rajab Ali says he was a refugee from Aleppo in Syria. He had fled to Kirkuk to safety and now he was fleeing again, he and his family struggling to stay ahead of the jihadists’ lightning advance.

And from Tikrit, Omar Gazi, a restaurant owner, he took these photographs of the jihadists before he packed up and left town, fearing that his throat would be cut if he stayed.

OMAR GAZI: When he see I have money, I have big restaurant, he take me outside and calling my family, I need $1 million. And when he take this million dollars, he kill me, you know?

JONATHAN RUGMAN: That’s what you thought might happen?

OMAR GAZI: Yes, because all these people, they don’t have…

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Did you see any foreign fighters?

OMAR GAZI: … don’t understand everything.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Did you see any foreign fighters, people from outside Iraq?

OMAR GAZI: Yes, yes, yes. I’m seeing maybe Afghanistan men and Syrian men.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: But how could you tell?

OMAR GAZI: Because the face is different, you know? And when he say hello, like, language — language of Pakistani not the same language Iraqi.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In this footage from Mosul further north, you can hear what sounds like a jihadi with a British accent reveling in the city’s capture yesterday.

MAN: We are celebrating. It’s a big achievement.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: And there’s no doubt, from an audio message to its followers, that ISIS believes it now has in its sights Baghdad itself.

MAN (through interpreter): We have a score to settle.