NEW: 22 dead in clashes between Shiite Turkmen and Kurdish forces in Tuz Khurmatu, Iraq
The two groups are allies in the fight against ISIS but have clashed before
Iraq's PM has called on both parties to cease hostilities and focus on common foe
Twenty-two fighters have been killed in ongoing clashes between Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite militia members in northern Iraq, local security officials say, a development that complicates the fight against ISIS in the region.
Security officials said the latest clashes erupted Saturday night in Tuz Khurmatu amid increased tensions between Shiite militias and Peshmerga forces – uneasy allies in the fight against ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State – in recent days.
Nine Kurdish fighters and 13 militia members were killed in the ongoing clashes, security officials said. Twenty people were wounded.
According to officials, the clashes erupted when Shiite militias attacked a house belonging to a Peshmerga officer. Kurdish forces retaliated, and fighting broke out in several parts of the town within hours, officials said.
Home to Shiite and Sunni Turkmen as well as Arabs and Kurds, Tuz Khurmatu is an ethnically mixed town 56 miles south of Kirkuk that is claimed by both Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he had ordered military commanders to take every measure possible to control the situation in the town.
He called on all parties to end hostilities and refocus their efforts on the fight against their common enemy, ISIS, which was repelled when it attempted to infiltrate Tuz Khurmatu two years ago.
The latest fighting in the town, which has seen clashes between Kurdish and Shiite forces before, highlights the challenges faced by Iraq, a country riven along sectarian and ethnic fault lines, as it attempts to confront the threat of ISIS.
The Kurds and Turkmen are both minorities in majority-Arab Iraq. The Kurds, who make up 15% to 20% of the population and have their own autonomous region in the north, receive U.S. backing in the fight against ISIS and have proved to be one of the most effective fighting forces against the terror group.