An oil-rich province in the north of Iraq plans to vote in a referendum on Kurdish independence later this month, prompting fears of regional conflict as tensions escalate over who owns a portion of the country's crude.
Kurdish forces have been in complete control of the province of Kirkuk — as well as other disputed areas — since the summer of 2014, when so-called Islamic State swept across parts of Iraq. In addition to being home to much of Iraq's oil, the northern part of the country forms part of Kurdistan, the unofficial but centuries-old home of the Kurdish people. The Kurds have long sought their own state and began to believe it was near their grasp after American troops overthrew Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government in 2003.
Both Iraqi government troops and Kurdish militia forces have fought to drive ISIS out from most of the country during the past two years, but now the long-running dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdish capital of Erbil over who should claim the spoils is sharpening.