The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) Counter Terror Group (CTG), an elite Peshmerga unit, was sent to Kirkuk via an armed convoy yesterday. CTG will be accompanying fellow Peshmerga commando units participating in the Newroz celebration being held in Kirkuk, a disputed city controlled almost entirely by Iraq and Iranian backed militias. They are scheduled to be pulled out following the celebrations conclusion. Lahur Talabani, head of the CTG and loyal member of the PUK, asked Kurdish citizens to come out in mass to celebrate the Kurdish new year with Peshmerga.

In a press release, Lahur stated, “PUK is equal to Kirkuk and Kirkuk is equal to the PUK. I call on the people to head towards the qala [the citadel], so that we light the Newroz fire at the citadel and make the people of Kirkuk happy.” Lahur, along with several other members of the PUK, has been accused of turning over control of Kirkuk to the invading militias when they pushed on the city last October. The events of October are surrounded by controversy but according to multiple accounts from within the organization, leaders in the PUK struck a deal with Iran in exchange for the Peshmerga’s departure from the territory. Lahur has denied these accusations and this past weekend requested that Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani begin a thorough investigations as to what exactly occurred on October 16th. The PUK apparently began their own investigation but have yet to reach anything conclusive or divulge any findings to the public or Kurdish regional Government (KRG).

According to PUK affiliated media outlets, the CTG element was deployed to protect people and provide security for the Newroz festival. Rebwar Taha, an PUK affiliated MP in Iraqi parliament, informed local media that the CTG forces were there as a security detail assigned to protect CTG’s leader. Kirkuk’s remaining Kurdish based political parties promised to raise the Bashur (Iraqi Kurdistan) flag for Newroz, the flag has been banned in Kirkuk since it’s takeover by Hashdt al-Shaabi.

Talabani asked the Kurdish residents of Kirkuk to participate in Iraq’s parliamentary election this coming May. He said that the Kurd’s of kirkuk should do so, “to impose the Kurdistani identity of Kirkuk.” He added that the loss of Afrin was a tragic continuation of the anti-Kurdish agenda that comes in the wake of Kurdistan’s attempted independence referendum. While Kirkuk has traditionally been a hub for the PUK political party outside of Sulaymaniah, they are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to the elections. Senior leader of the PUK, Mala Bakhtiar, informed local media recently that they expect to lose 10-15 percent of their votes from disputed territories like Kirkuk.